As millions of Americans raced to the post office this week to mail in their taxes, we were reminded that April is, indeed, the cruelest month. It’s cruel because the sagging economy continues to create economic hardships for working-class Americans — including the Rising American Electorate.
Composed of unmarried women, African Americans, Latinos, other people of color, and youth ages 18-29, the Rising American Electorate, or RAE, continues to feel the pinch of the underperforming American economy. Unmarried women in particular are economically living on the edge.
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Of all women who are unemployed, two-thirds are unmarried. Of all women who have no health insurance, two-thirds are unmarried. And of all women below the federal poverty line, 81 percent are unmarried, according to recent data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Just this past March, a survey conducted by the Democracy Corps and the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund confirmed our fears about the RAE. The survey found that unmarried women and significant portions of the RAE had experienced economic hard times within the past year. Specifically, our research found:
- 68 percent of the RAE had to scale back purchases at the grocery store due to rising prices.
- 40 percent reported the loss of a job.
- 39 percent experienced reduced wages, hours or benefits at work.
- 39 percent had to move in with a family member or take someone in to save money.
- 33 percent lost health insurance coverage.
- 23 percent fell behind on mortgage payments or experienced a home foreclosure.
- And 23 percent experienced reduced unemployment, infant care and/or child care benefits.
Unmarried women also experience a marriage gap when it comes to earning a living. In 2012, unmarried women made just 63 cents compared to every dollar a married man earned, according to a new report by Lake Research Partners and our sister group, Voter Participation Center. For unmarried women with children, the gap grows larger: Unmarried women with children under the age of 18 make 57 cents to the dollar when compared to a married man. And for unmarried women with children under the age of 6, the figure is a startling 48 cents to the dollar.
As an organization, we focus on the RAE because it represents the New American Majority. It makes up 54 percent of all eligible U.S. voters. If politicians want to appeal to the new majority of American voters, they simply can’t ignore the needs and disparate voices of the RAE.
Sadly, unmarried women and the RAE are becoming disengaged. Our research shows that their concerns are not being addressed by current economic policies. If left unaddressed, this disconnect could spell disaster for Democrats in 2014 and beyond. In 2012, it’s true, members of the RAE overwhelmingly supported President Obama. And as the Republican National Committee noted last month in its "autopsy" of the 2012 presidential campaign, the sheer number of these RAE voters is only expected to climb in coming years. “The minority groups that President Obama carried with 80 percent of the vote in 2012 are on track to become a majority of the nation’s population by 2050,” the RNC wrote.
But midterm elections traditionally attract very different voters than presidential races, and Democrats should prepare for what could be a drastic drop-off in voter support. In 2008, for example, unmarried women represented 21 percent of the total vote. But these same women fell to just 18 percent of the vote in 2010, a non-presidential year. And their support is crucial. For all the talk of the gender gap in American politics, the truth is that the marriage gap is even more profound. In 2012, unmarried women supported President Obama over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by 36 points, a massive margin that helped stem other losses. Even though President Obama lost the married-women vote by 7 points in 2012, he made up for it with his overwhelming support by unmarried women. The point: If unmarried women do not turn out in droves on November 4, 2014, Democrats could be in for a long evening.
So what should leaders of both parties focus on? Our research shows that the top priorities for all women are protecting retirement benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Unmarried women care deeply about Medicare, investing in job training and making college more affordable. Other major priorities include helping women-owned businesses, expanding preventive health care for women, raising the minimum wage and making child care more affordable. And, importantly, unmarried women want equal pay for equal work. Today, an unmarried woman has to work more than 19 months to earn what a married man earns in just one year.
Unmarried women contribute significantly to the economy, representing a fifth of the workforce and a fifth of all home buyers. But they have been suffering disproportionately from the economic downturn. Politicians of both parties will ignore them, and their economic needs, at their own peril.
Page Gardner is president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund. Information sources used in this article include the Democracy Corps' report "The Urgent Policy Agenda" and the Voter Participation Center/Lake Research Partners memo, "The Gender
and Marriage Gap in Earnings."