Race, gender and poverty in Kansas

Emily Fetsch
Feb. 5, 2018

The Bad News: Kansas women, particularly women of color, are more likely than men to struggle to make ends meet and afford basic necessities.

The Good News: Much can be done by policymakers and employers at the state level to strengthen the economic outlook for Kansas women.

A new report from the Kansas Health Institute, Chartbook: Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in a Changing Kansas, shows that women in Kansas, especially women of color, are more likely to live in poverty. For 2018, the federal poverty level for a family of four is $25,100. Approximately a quarter of Hispanic (28 percent), African-American (27 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (24 percent) women in Kansas live in poverty, compared with just 15 percent of white Kansas women and 14 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander Kansas women.

Women have made great gains in the workforce and in education the past few decades, yet women remain more likely to live in poverty. There are many reasons why this might be the case, including:

  • Pay inequity,
  • Being sole providers for their children,
  • Occupational segregation, in which women are more likely to go into certain occupations and have difficulty entering other jobs, and
  • The impact of pregnancy on women’s career trajectories.

Research shows mothers face an economic penalty of a 4 percent decrease in income for each child they have, while fatherhood results in an increase to their earnings of 6 percent.

To help women fulfill their economic potential, policymakers and employers can do more. Employers can implement fair hiring practices, ensure pay equity, and provide adequate parental leave for both mothers and fathers. Research shows pay equity would cut the poverty rate for working women by half, from 8 percent to 3.8 percent.

Employers should encourage fathers to take parental leave because increased parental leave among fathers can increase employment and pay for mothers, reduce work-family conflict, and improve a child’s health and development.

For policymakers, addressing the challenges of child care, including access and cost, could help reduce the economic burden facing mothers. In addition, by continuing and strengthening programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, policymakers will not only support working families but also reduce poverty.

Women are an essential part of the Kansas economy. An economic system that leaves women, particularly women of color, more likely to live in poverty is a system that is failing to capitalize on its potential. Increasing opportunities, while addressing the systematic barriers facing women, will not only reduce poverty levels across the state, but strengthen the economic health of the state.

Emily Fetsch is the Kansas Center for Economic Growth’s policy and research analyst.

ClayRace, gender and poverty in Kansas