Columbia’s War on Poverty: Considering Missouri neighbors during Women's History Month

Major Kevin Cedervall
Major Kevin Cedervall

In the spirit of March being Women’s History Month, let’s give a little extra thought to women facing poverty here in Missouri (with the sad difference being that this is very much the present-day, and not history).

Missouri women face a variety of unique challenges in escaping poverty. Despite the many advances in gender equality, women continue to face systematic discrimination and barriers that often leave them financially vulnerable. Those of us in poverty services see the worst-case scenario of this every day.

One of the primary reasons women in Missouri struggle with poverty is because they are more likely to be the sole caretakers of children, often without the financial support of a partner. According to the United States Census Bureau, almost 30% of Missouri households are headed by single mothers, who typically earn less than their male counterparts. As a result, these women are more likely to experience financial strain, with over 22% of female-headed households living below the poverty line.

In addition, Missouri women face wage disparities that exacerbate the gender wage gap, which has been proven to widen as women get older. The Institute for Women's Policy Research reports that women in Missouri earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. This discrepancy can translate to a significant reduction in lifetime earnings, which impacts women's ability to save for retirement and build wealth.

Moreover, women in Missouri face difficulties accessing affordable healthcare. The state has consistently ranked among the worst in the nation for healthcare access and affordability, with the highest rates of uninsured individuals in the Midwest.

For women, this can mean limited access to preventative care and necessary medical procedures, which can lead to chronic illnesses and increased medical debt. In turn, this can lead to financial instability and even bankruptcy (remember that health care debt is the number one reason for bankruptcy in the United States).

Missouri women also struggle to access affordable childcare, which can be a huge expense for working mothers. In Missouri, the average cost of childcare is $9,815 per year, which can be prohibitively expensive for low-income families. This expense can force mothers to make difficult choices between working and caring for their children, which can limit their career opportunities and earning potential.

Furthermore, Missouri women face challenges accessing public assistance programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid. These programs are designed to support low-income families, but eligibility requirements can be difficult to navigate and many families are unable to access them due to bureaucratic hurdles. Additionally, many women in Missouri live in rural areas, where access to these programs can be even more difficult.

Finding affordable housing is easily one of the most difficult problems faced by women dealing with poverty. The undisputed fact is that there is simply not enough affordable housing for those in lower-income brackets. It is a struggle faced by basically every community in the United States, and Missouri is no exception. Columbia is no exception.

Add to all of that the fact that women facing poverty may struggle to access healthy and nutritious food, which can lead to health problems and exacerbate poverty. Or consider that women facing poverty may have limited access to educational opportunities, limiting their ability to advance in their careers and earn a living wage.

Oh, and we won’t even get into issues of addiction and mental health experienced by far too many, especially the unhoused.

No matter who you are, poverty — especially extreme poverty — is difficult, at best. The odds get even tougher for women, often with a kid or two or three in the mix.

All of these problems can be solved, but doing that is anything but easy, and women tend to find extra impediments in their paths. We should keep this in mind as we work on solutions to help everybody succeed.

Major Kevin Cedervall is a leader of The Salvation Army in Columbia. The Salvation Army provides a wide range of community services to address poverty and other issues, seeking to rebuild lives and create lasting change.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Considering Missouri neighbors during Women's History Month