The Williams Institute released a detailed study about the economic status of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people on Monday. “As poverty rates for nearly all populations increased during the recession, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people. Gender, race, education and geography all influence poverty rates among LGB populations, and children of same-sex couples are particularly vulnerable to poverty.” The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School researches sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
While this study focused on economic status based on sexual orientation, it is important to note that discrimination based on gender identity and expression often results in extreme poverty for transgender people. The survey Injustice at Every Turn found that transgender people were “nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/ year compared to the general population.”
- In the American Community Survey, 7.6% of lesbian couples, compared to 5.7% of married different-sex couples, are in poverty.
- African American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.
- One third of lesbian couples and 20.1 % of gay male couples without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8% of different-sex married couples.
- Lesbian couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor (14.1%), compared to 4.5% of coupled lesbians in large cities. 10.2% of men in same-sex couples, who live in small metropolitan areas, are poor, compared with only 3.3% of coupled gay men in large metropolitan areas.
- Almost one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2% of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared to 12.1% of children living with married different-sex couples. African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3%) of any children in any household type.
- 14.1% of lesbian couples and 7.7% of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared to 6.5% of different-sex married couples. Also, 2.2% of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared to .8% of women in different sex couples; 1.2% of men in same-sex couples, compared to .6% of men in different-sex couples, receive cash assistance.
M.V. Lee Badgett, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts and research director at The Williams Institute, spoke with NBC News about the study.
Do your findings suggest that policymakers need to adjust their approach to preventing poverty, or to helping people gays and lesbians get out of poverty?
Yes. Making sure that the systems are welcoming and understanding of the life situations of LGBT people is very important. If they feel like their relationships are going to be looked down upon or they’re stigmatized in some other way, they might need those benefits but be unwilling to go in and apply for them.
The findings also suggest that there are other kinds of things to prevent poverty that need to be addressed. For instance, we don’t have any protection against discrimination against LGBT people at the federal level. Only 21 states outlaw discrimination for sexual orientation and 16 states for gender identity. People who lose jobs because of discrimination are very likely to run into problems with poverty. If they don’t have incomes, they will be a whole lot poorer. So, nondiscrimination laws are very important.
Also, marriage is designed to give people a framework for living their economic lives together as well as their family lives, and when people in same-sex couples don’t have access to that framework, then they are automatically deprived of certain kinds of economic supports. Not having the right to marry makes people more economically vulnerable as well.
Download the full study from The Williams Institute.
Watch: Economics of Denying Same Gender Marriage
University of Massachusetts professor Lee Badgett discusses the U.S. Supreme Court hearing on same-sex marriage with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line.”
- A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers, Center for American Progress
- LGBT Elders: Poverty’s Challenges Worsen With Age, Huffington Post
- Reaching Out to LGBT Older Adults