Spotlight: Women and Poverty

Women in Poverty

In 2017, according to the most recent American Community Survey conducted by the US Census, women in Montgomery County are more likely than men to live in poverty: specifically, 7.7 percent of county women and girls live in poverty, compared to 6.1 percent of county men and boys. Due to this higher rate of poverty, women and girls account for 57 percent of all county residents living in poverty, with male residents accounting for the remaining 43 percent. 
The number of women living in poverty increased by 66 percent over the decade between 2007 and 2017 -- or by over 16,500 residents. While the number of men living in poverty also increased at a high rate, women accounted for nearly 60 percent of the overall increase in poverty over the past decade. Nevertheless, the county continues to experience a low poverty rate by national standards at roughly half the national average.
The poverty rates in Montgomery County show sharp disparities by race and ethnicity. For instance, 13.7 percent of Hispanic women in Montgomery County live in poverty, compared to 4.2 percent of White, Non-Hispanic women, based on the most recent five-year estimates from the American Community Survey (2012-2016). Note: the five-year estimates are used for these statistics in favor of the one-year estimates used above to reduce margin of error when comparing smaller groups. Hispanic and Black or African American women make up a combined 59 percent of county women living in poverty.
Poverty Rate by Race and Ethnicity
Distribution of Women in Poverty by Race and Ethnicity
Women as Share of Residents in Poverty by Age

Women make up a rapidly growing share of county residents in poverty between the ages of 18 and 35 (i.e. women in the primary childbearing years). Among older women, the number spikes as well. This spike is due, in part, to a larger share of older female residents living in poverty because of longer lifespans, widowhood, and more limited fixed incomes.

Differences by Family Type

Single mother households have far higher rates of poverty than households headed by a married couple. The poverty rate is particularly high among households headed by single mothers with a child under the age of five, where 30 percent of such families live in poverty. Notably, the number of poor single mother households fell slightly between 2006 and 2016 despite the overall increase in poverty over this period.
Families consisting of a female head of household without a husband present in the household receive a median household income of $58,500, which is only 40 percent of the income of the median household income of married-couples. As a result, 54 percent of female-headed households without a husband present live below the self-sufficiency standard, compared to only 21 percent of married couple households.

Public Assistance

Families headed by a woman without a husband present are five times more likely than married couples to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps). In fact, while there are five times as many married couple families in the county, families headed by a woman without a husband actually account for more SNAP recipients (8,400 vs. 7,200).

In addition to SNAP/Food stamps, over 30,000 county residents utilize the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) nutrition and healthcare federal support program for pregnant women, new mothers, and their young children, based on Maryland Hunger Solutions statistics from 2014
Within the State of Maryland, 47,696 adults and children received Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF), 398,000 households qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit, 8,500 families received child care subsidies, 94,000 received federal rental assistance, 611,835 children were enrolled in Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and 10,069 children participated in Head Start programs (note: data for these programs do not appear to be available at the county-level). Montgomery County offers 34 HeadStart classes throughout the county to 648 three- and four-year old children, 60 of whom are three-year olds.
Lastly, 6.8 percent of county women in 2017 did not have health insurance, compared to 7.5 percent of county men.


The county's chronic homelessness dashboard reports that women make up 35 percent of the county's homeless population, representing 139 residents. Black or African Americans make up 55 percent of the county's homeless population. The highest prevalence among women is in the 35-39 and 50-64 age range, a trend that mirrors men. Women have notably lower rates of homelessness in the 25-34 age range relative to men. While historical data broken down by gender is not readily available, the Washington Metro Council of Governments conducts an annual "Point-in-Time" survey that shows a decrease in overall homelessness counts. The survey shows a decline of 126 homeless residents per 100,000 in 2006 to 94 homeless residents per 100,000 in 2016.