Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Women and children make up the majority of people populating Habitat neighborhoods, as they are the most likely to be affected by poor living conditions. They face challenges that make it more difficult to access this basic need - challenges like the gender wage and wealth gap.
On average, women earn less than men; this difference is even greater for BIPOC women (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Based on the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, women working full time, year-round, earn an average of only 82 cents for every $1 earned by men. For every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men, Latinas earn 54 cents, AIAN (American Indian & Alaskan Native) women earn 57 cents, Black women earn 62 cents. Despite composing nearly half of the workforce, women account for 60 percent of the nation's lowest-paid workers.
The cause of the gender wage gap can be attributed to many factors, including the number of hours worked, years of experience, and discrimination based on gender, race, and ethnicity. In addition, it is driven by differences in jobs and occupations between men and women. Traditionally women have often been segregated into lower-paying occupations such as teaching, child care, nursing, cleaning, and waitressing, which typically pay less than jobs in male-dominated industries.
Households that are living paycheck to paycheck are unable to set aside money for the future and will have trouble bouncing back from unexpected life events such as losing a job, caring for a sick family member, or recovering from a car accident. A single mother, for example, earning minimum wage who spends most of her pretax income on housing has only $124 per week — or $17 a day — left to spend on all other necessities, including food, transportation, healthcare, and clothing.
Not only do more women than men struggle to cover everyday expenses due to the gender wage gap, but the gap compounds over a lifetime, creating the gender wealth gap, meaning women end up with fewer resources and savings than men. Wealth, a household's net worth is all of its assets minus all of its liabilities. "Wealth is different than income. Wealth is a store of resources to be used for emergencies. It includes savings for college or a secure retirement; resources to be leveraged into investments, like a home or a business; and it can be passed on to the next generation."
When it comes to wealth and being able to save for the future, single women are left far behind their male counterparts. Women own only 32 cents on the dollar compared to men. Black Women own 2 cents on the dollar, Latina women, 1 cent, and single black mothers own nothing.
Many of these societal factors are out of our direct control - but one way the gender wealth and wage gap can be closed is by building economic equity with shelter. An affordable, quality home is critical to a family's economic well-being and ability to save for the future. An affordable mortgage, one that accounts for 30% or less of income, in a safe, decent home gives families the financial freedom to pay for necessary daily expenses while still setting money aside for the future.
That is why Habitat's Women Build program is so important. It empowers women facing these financial barriers to break free of the cycle of poverty and build a future for themselves and their children.