Why LGBTQ women face a uniquely high risk of poverty

Deborah Shure, 66, and Aymarah Robles, 60 waiting to marry at the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts in January. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LYNNE SLADKY
Deborah Shure, 66, and Aymarah Robles, 60 waiting to marry at the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts in January. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LYNNE SLADKY

Although there are an estimated 5.1 million adult women in the United States who are LGBTQ, little attention has focused on their economic security. A new report released by Center for American Progress and Movement Advancement Project explains the three key causes of financial instability for LGBTQ women.

According to the report, LGBTQ women are at increased risk for economic insecurity compared to other women and to men. Almost 30 percent of bisexual women and 23 percent of lesbian women live in poverty, and transgender individuals are nearly four times more likely than the general population to have annual incomes of $10,000 or less. The impact of poverty is particularly widespread among women of color and older women. African American and Latina women in same-sex couples are three and two times more likely, respectively, to be poor than their white counterparts. Additionally, women in same-sex couples who are 65 and older are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as their counterparts in married different-sex couples.

LGBTQ parents are especially vulnerable. Nearly half of LGBTQ women under age 50 are raising children, and rates of parenting are higher for African American, Hispanic, and Asian LGBTQ women compared to white LGBTQ women. In addition to the financial costs faced by nearly all parents, discrimination at work, within health care, and in the legal system makes it more difficult for these women to support their families. Indeed, 15 percent of female same-sex couples raising children live in poverty, compared to 9 percent of married different-sex couples with children.

1. Employment Discrimination Hurts LGBTQ Women

Women continue to face sexual harassment, unequal pay, and other barriers to equality within the workplace, and discrimination against LGBTQ women is especially pervasive, both during the hiring process and once on the job. No federal statute contains explicit prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — meaning that LGBTQ women frequently work in hostile environments or lose their jobs altogether. Indeed, there are now many states in which women can legally marry their same-sex partner and then legally be fired the next day. Additionally, harassment and discrimination at school means that young LGBTQ women may have a harder time equipping themselves for the workforce. Transgender women encounter heightened barriers, such as difficulty obtaining the accurate and up-to-date identity documents they need in order to work. As a result, LGBTQ women often work jobs with lower pay and have fewer opportunities for advancement.

2. LGBTQ Women Have Higher Health Risks and Health Care Costs

Stigma against LGBTQ women takes a heavy toll, increasing risks to their physical and mental health. Indeed, LGBTQ women are less likely than both men and other women to report that they are thriving physically. Despite this, discriminatory laws, provider bias, insurance exclusions for transgender individuals, and inadequate reproductive health coverage mean that many LGBTQ women cannot afford the care they need or face steeper costs to get it. For instance, 29 percent of LGBTQ women said they had struggled in the past year to pay for health care for themselves or their families, compared to 19 percent of non-LGBTQ women, 21 percent of LGBTQ men, and 15 percent of non-LGBTQ men. As a result, health problems may threaten LGBTQ women’s quality of life and ability to work and reduce the funds they have available to meet other needs.

3. LGBTQ Women Face Unfair Costs Related to Family Recognition

LGBTQ women still face barriers to marrying their partners or establishing legal ties to their children in many states. As a result, they may lack access to affordable health insurance, family sick leave, and safety net programs aimed at keeping families financially afloat when they hit hard times. The costs incurred while trying to navigate these unfair policies — such as complications on tax forms, establishing parenting agreements, or moving out of state to gain better legal protections — are out of reach for many LGBTQ women and reduce the economic security of others. Additionally, LGBTQ women suffer from the lack of family support that makes balancing work, family life, and household finances difficult for almost all women, such as lack of paid parental leave or affordable child care.


The combination of employment discrimination, higher health care costs, and lack of family support and recognition put LGBTQ women and their partners and children at higher risk of poverty — an unfair penalty they pay simply because of who they are.