Since Will & Grace, mainstream portrayals of LGBT people have often presented them as financially well off, perpetuating a myth that is not actually reflected in the data about LGBT lives. A new report from the Movement Advancement Project and Center for American Progress documents how various societal obstacles actually limit the financial stability of LGBT people.
The report culminates numerous studies that paint a bleak picture for LGBT people. Only 29 percent of LGBT adults report that they are thriving financially, compared to 39 percent of non-LGBT adults, with an even wider gap for women than for men. A 2012 Gallup survey found that 20.7 percent of LGBT people living alone had incomes less than $12,000, a bit higher than the 17.0 percent of non-LGBT people living alone.
There are three primary hurdles impeding LGBT people’s ability to prosper. A lack of nondiscrimination protections allows LGBT people in many states to be fired, denied housing, and refused health care simply because of their identities. There continues to be no national laws protecting them from such discrimination. Credit discrimination and difficulty obtaining accurate gender identity documents further limit the ability of LGBT people to secure jobs with higher incomes or mitigate housing and medical costs.
When LGBT families are not legally recognized through marriage, it impedes their access to health insurance, tax benefits, retirement planning, and other safety-net programs. They thus pay more for insurance, shell out extra for legal assistance to obtain protections through other means, and face more liability for protecting their families in emergency situations.
Lastly, the stigma faced by students who identify as LGBT sets them up for a lifetime of disadvantages. Studies show that an unwelcoming school environment has a measurable negative impact on students’ ability to succeed in school. As a result, it is harder to pursue higher education opportunities, and harder to access financial assistance if they do, contributing to a reduction in their earnings over the course of their lives.
As a result of these low incomes, same-sex couples are more likely to be living in poverty, their children are more likely to be living in poverty, and they are more likely to be living in poverty when they are older as well.
The report further details the various forms of discrimination that LGBT people are experiencing and the financial consequences that result. Though stigma may linger for some time, there are plenty of legal solutions that would alleviate these burdens. As the report concludes, “Addressing the failures of law that financially penalize LGBT Americans simply requires that LGBT people and their families be treated equally. It is a step we have to take now — before more children and more families have to pay an unfair price.”