Panel Paper: New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 1:15 PM
Boardroom (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lee Badgett1, Laura Durso2 and Alyssa Schneebaum1, (1)University of Massachusetts, Amherst, (2)University of California, Los Angeles
A severe global recession has heightened attention to poverty in the United States, with the poverty rate rising over time and leveling off at 15.0% in 2011.   Though available research is limited, evidence suggests that that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and same-sex couples are more vulnerable to being poor than their heterosexual counterparts.  The present study compares poverty rates between LGBT and non-LGBT people (single individuals and couples) using four datasets:  the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), the 2007-2009 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), and the June 1 - September 30, 2012 Gallup Daily Tracking Poll.  Though not all results reach the level of statistical significance, the pattern of results across all datasets suggests that LGBT people and same-sex couples are more vulnerable to poverty and are more likely to be receiving assistance from government support programs than are heterosexual people or couples. 

Looking first at couples in the ACS, a significantly greater percentage of women in same-sex couples (7.6%) are in poverty, compared to married different-sex couples (5.7%).  Men in same-sex couples are significantly less likely to be in poverty than their married different-sex counterparts (4.3% versus 5.7%). However, when we estimate multivariate probit regression models for the ACS and control for covariates of poverty (such as age, race, and employment), we find that same-sex couples have a higher risk of poverty than different-sex married couples. 

We also find that certain subgroups among same-sex couples in the ACS have an even higher likelihood of poverty. Children in same-sex couple households are almost twice as likely to be poor as in married different-sex couple households.  African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3%) of any children in any household type. Poverty rates are also higher for rural same-sex couples, and women in same-sex couples who report low levels of education or who have a disability.

Though not statistically significant, results from the NSFG showed that among women 18-44 years old, more than a quarter of bisexual women are poor (29.4%) and more than 1 in 5 lesbians are in poverty (22.7%), a rate higher than the poverty rate among heterosexual women (21.1%).  Similarly, a greater percentage of gay (20.5%) and bisexual men (25.9%) fell at or below the federal poverty line than heterosexual men (15.3%), but these differences were also not statistically significant.

In contrast, the poverty rates for lesbian and gay adults in the CHIS dataset are lower than for heterosexual people and bisexual people, and further analyses demonstrate that this finding is likely unique to California.

Finally, we see in the ACS and NSFG that same-sex couples and LGB adults are more likely to be receiving cash assistance and SNAP benefits than are heterosexual people or couples.  Our analyses highlight that policy interventions to lift people out of poverty may be differentially effective among different subpopulations of LGBT people and additional research is needed to address this significant social problem.