For Crying out Loud: Women's Poverty in the United States

By Diane Dujon; Ann Withorn | Go to book overview

HOW THE U.S. ECONOMY
CREATES POVERTY AND
INEQUALITY

Mary Huff Stevenson and Elaine Donovan

ANY CAPITALIST ECONOMY CREATES WINNERS AND LOSERS, and the United States is no exception. What is noteworthy about the U.S. economy in the 1990s is that the gap between the winners and the losers is larger than it has been in the past 50 years, and that the United States is now generating more inequality than any other advanced capitalist nation. 1 These features of the contemporary U.S. economy have undermined the standard of living for many U.S. households, and are particularly threatening to households that depend heavily on women's earnings.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. economy was about to start on an expansion that brought higher living standards and greater economic security to a wide range of families. From 1945 until the early 1970s, most households could expect that their purchasing power would grow from one year to the next. In heavy industries such as automobiles or steel, a male wage earner without a high school degree could support a family with an income not only above the poverty line, but high enough to purchase a single-family home and still have enough left over to save for retirement or for the kids' college education.

Even in those expansionary times, however, there were households that did not share in the general prosperity. Observers spoke of the "paradox of poverty amid plenty." In 1960, Michael Harrington described "the other America," the people the expansion left behind. 2 They included the elderly, families in economically deserted areas such as Appalachia, minority households that faced economic discrimination, and families without access to a working man's wages.

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