Recession or No, You’re More Likely to Be Broke If You’re Gay

One thing that no one seemed to ever tire of doing as a response to the recession was play the game of who had it worst — the term “he-cession” comes to mind. While that may not be a particularly productive conversation, it is true that economic inequalities exist, and that people who are marginalized socially often also experience the bottom of the economic ladder. For instance, according to the (relatively) recent report from Half in Ten, which (among many other useful and interesting things!) details the specific ways in which LGBT couples and families are economically worse off than their straight counterparts.

Half in Ten is an organization which aims to cut poverty levels in America in half over the next ten years, and in the process of doing so is making information available about how bad poverty levels actually are right now. In their report from the end of 2011, “Restoring Shared Prosperity: Strategies to Cut Poverty and Expand Economic Growth,” they’ve included a section on how poverty impacts the LGBT community, and the facts are pretty eye-opening. Among their findings:

+ Lesbian women have consistently higher rates of poverty than do heterosexual women. Twenty-four percent of lesbian and bisexual women ages 18 to 44 are living in poverty compared to 19 percent of heterosexual women, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. The same study found that 15 percent of gay men live in poverty compared to 13 percent of heterosexual men.

+ Lesbian couples tend to have much higher poverty rates than either heterosexual or gay male couples. Lesbian couples ages 65 or older are twice as likely as heterosexual married couples to live in poverty.

+ Children of same-sex couples are about twice as likely to be poor as children of heterosexual married couples. One out of every five children living in same-sex couple families lives in poverty, compared to 1 out of every 10 children in married heterosexual couple families.

+ Transgender individuals have high unemployment rates, low incomes, high poverty rates, and high rates of homelessness. While little data is available on the wages of transgender people, between 22 percent and 64 percent of transgender people reported annual earnings of less than $25,000 in sample surveys.

 The recession hit everyone hard, but there are some groups who had less of an economic support system to fall back on when jobs and money became scarce — like queers, or trans people, or people of color, and people who identify as more than one of those things. In some ways, these findings are consistent with those for straight people in the same situation — given the gendered wage gap, of course an unmarried woman (because marriage between two women isn’t federally recognized, so lesbian couples are “unmarried”) over the age of 65 would be more likely to be living in poverty. These gaps in income in wealth would certainly be reduced if, say, DOMA were repealed, and same-sex couples were entitled to the same legal and tax rights as straight married couples.

On the other hand, though, there are economic hardships particular to our community, and those might take longer to go away. It’s much harder to get a job, especially in this economy, if you’re gender-nonconforming, or “too butch,” or trans. There are states, like Michigan, where you can legally be fired for no reason other than being gay. There are plenty of other states where it may not be legal, but it may also not be easy to prosecute, especially if you’re a broke queer who can’t afford to sue. If a queer person loses their job, there usually aren’t benefits provided for their partner or children unless they’re biologically related or second-parent adopted. If we can’t get health insurance for our families because our families aren’t recognized as real, we have to pay out of pocket with money we don’t have. And perhaps most significantly, many of us don’t have our families to fall back on — during a time when people were moving back in with their parents or relying on them for extra money in droves, many queer people aren’t welcome in their parents’ houses, at least not with their partners or families. And if our parents have disowned us or refuse to support us financially, we’re also left without the inheritances and trust funds that many straight people count on. And when our lives are this financially unstable, we’re often totally unable to save and invest — which is what would enable us to create wealth, which is what would keep our children from being twice as likely to be poor as the children of our straight counterparts.

200,000 new jobs were created in December, and the unemployment rate is lower than it was months ago, if only slightly. It seems possible that while we may not be in the middle of an economic recovery, we might be seeing the beginnings of one. But while there’s some contention over whether the recession affected everyone “equally,” we also have to remember that there are some groups that may not come out of the recession equally on their feet, especially if a factor in their economic inequality is social marginalization. Unless America also manages a recovery of its values of equal rights and freedom for all, it may be a while until some of us see economic justice.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. This is really interesting Rachel and you make a lot of good points!

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately b/c it seems like once the recession started, a lot of my straight female friends have consented to being supported largely on their husband/boyfriend’s income (as opposed to being fiercely determined to be self-sufficient, as many of us were pre-recession), but most of the lesbians in relationships that i know tend to compound economic hardships when they get together, rather than ease them on either side.

    The stats about children of same-sex parents surprised me, though I guess comparing any kind of same-sex couple with kids (which could be someone who already had kids with a man and left him to be gay) to heterosexual married couples with kids might get weird results.

    Also all the market research I read says gay men are like the best demographic in the whole world to sell shit to! I guess it’s not saying that gays and lesbians are less likely to be rich, just that they are more likely to be poor. la la.

    • The thing about children of same-sex parents surprised me. I watched my aunts adopt two kids which is how I know that adoption (especially from a foreign country) is hella expensive.

      Maybe everyone is going broke adopting said kids?

      • from all the studies i’ve read of gay parents (many) and perhaps my anecdotal experiences as a guest on like four rosie r-family cruises (which is probs the most anecdotal experience ever) — i honestly can’t imagine that being the case; i feel in general couples who go through that process are pretty serious about it/ready for it? i am really confused about that statistic, i feel like there’s an explanation (maybe it’s just biological children of moms or dads who leave straight relationships?) for it, that maybe is beyond what i can see as a normal human being on this planet earth in this crazy wild universe

        • I feel like it has to be swayed by children of moms/dads who were in straight relationships (or maybe single?) when the kid was born and then get into a same-sex relationship. But it could also be same-sex couples who had a child or were in the process of having a child and then lost a job. Fertility treatments or using a surrogate or adopting are all expensive; job loss could really affect a couple’s ability to pay those bills. And then there is the fact that same-sex couples don’t get all the tax benefits that straight married couples get, which can affect finances as well.

  2. For the love of god do not let Rick Santorum see these stats, he’ll add it to his list of three things you can do to stay out of poverty: 1) graduate high school 2) get a job 3) get married (and now) 4) don’t be gay. Well, Rick Santorum, sure would be nice if we could do that third one….

  3. I’m definitely broke-r because I’m queer. I can’t move back in with my folks–they’re accepting of me, fortunately, but many folks where they live and where I grew up are definitely *not* accepting–to save money. I’m paying for gender-related therapy and trying to save up for (hopefully) eventual top surgery. Unlike my married straight peers, I don’t benefit from tax breaks. And I’ve encountered uncomfortable questioning about my queer-ness during job interviews, which may’ve led to me not getting those jobs.

    And I’m relatively lucky. I’m white, so I don’t face additional discrimination for being a queer POC. I do have supportive family, relatively small student loan debt, and no expensive health problems (if you don’t count being genderqueer/trans). But there’s a lot of folks who are struggling, and discrimination makes it worse.

    You know what I’d like to see? Instead of focusing on gay marriage, I’d like to see folks at HRC lobby for anti-discrimination bills inclusive of trans* and gay people, so nobody has to lose housing or a job because they’re gay or a transwoman or bi. I’d like to see more housing for LGBTQ seniors and homeless youths. I’d like to see adoption made easier for queer parents, tax breaks extended to queer partnerships, gender confirmation treatments and surgeries (for those who want them) covered by health insurance–hell, just plain health insurance made available and affordable for *everyone*.

    That’s the kind of stimulus package I can support wholeheartedly.

    • I feel like there’s a lot of legitimate conversations going on about the HRC for just this reason. Marriage equality is a great cause and I stand behind it but it is far from the only cause in the LGBT world and I almost feel like some of these (like anti-discrimination acts) are maybe more important because they would apply to EVERY queer as opposed to just those in culturally normative relationships.

    • It is my life goal to

      1) start a home for homeless GLBTQ youth
      2) start a nursing home for GLBTQ elderly (I already have people that are going to help me with this one when the time comes.)

      I am in Nursing school but as soon as I have the funds and experience, both of these things will be underway. I say within the next 7 years for the youth home for sure.

  4. I’m always wary about rises in employment in December because that’s when everyone ever in retail hires new people that they’ve already fired by now. So sure, people were hired on in December, it’s the holiday season. We have crap to sell. I’ll feel better if the jobs number in January goes up as well.

  5. Wait what?! I have DEFINITELY read statistics about lesbians out-earning straight women consistently in the workplace, and about children of lesbians achieving higher education levels than children of hetero partnerships.

    Somebody is doing their math wrong. Because none of this is peer-reviewed, we have no way of knowing who…

    • Lesbians do tend to out-earn straight women, but lesbians are considerably less likely to be married to higher-earning husbands. I’ve seen the data I think you’re talking about, and it included straight married women who work part-time to supplement their husband’s income. That skews the data.

  6. To be honest, anti-discrimination laws do nothing to ease the fear of discrimination I create in my own head during an interview. Because, I mean, how do I know they’re not discriminating?

    When I was younger and the economy was way better, if an employer discriminated against me I’d just say, fuck you guys, I’m finding a job somewhere else. But now there’s only one job opening within 100 miles of me that I’m qualified for with benefits and a 401k that I really need now that I’m older.

    And with more people applying for fewer jobs, it could come down to the person who is better dressed (read: more normative). I did get the job, and I’ve gone through two bottles of Maalox since the application process started a month ago.

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