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Study: Lesbian, gay, bisexual Americans more likely to be poor than heterosexuals

Williams Institute news release:

New data undermines popular myth of gay and lesbian affluence

Washington, D.C. - The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law today released a first-of-its-kind report that shows lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans are as likely, and in some cases more likely, to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts.

Because the U.S. Census Bureau does not explicitly ask questions about sexual orientation, LGB adults and families have been invisible in poverty statistics.  This first analysis of the poor and low-income lesbian, gay and bisexual population synthesizes data from three major sources: the 2000 Census, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview Surveys.

"The report highlights a significant segment of the poor and low-income population that has largely been ignored," said M.V. Lee Badgett, research director at The Williams Institute and an author of the study.  "The data clearly undermine the persistent myth that the gay community is monolithically affluent.  As a group, quite the contrary is true."

Though poverty is on the rise among all Americans, the authors of the study--entitled Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community--suggest that unique social and political aspects of LGB life play a role in contributing to higher rates of poverty in this community, including vulnerability to employment discrimination, inability to marry and higher numbers of uninsured.

"Lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans are often susceptible to economic hardship," said Randy Albelda, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.  "Given that many gay people have little recourse against employment discrimination and are shut out of institutions that promote economic security, it's really no surprise that we're seeing such high rates of poverty among this group," concluded Albelda.

The study's key findings include:

  • After comparing families with similar characteristics, gay and lesbian couple families are significantly more likely to be poor than are heterosexual married couple families;
  • In general, lesbian couples have much higher poverty rates than either different-sex couples or gay male couples;
  • African-Americans in same-sex couples have poverty rates that are significantly higher than black people in different-sex married couples;
  • People in same-sex couples who live in rural areas have poverty rates that are twice as high as same-sex couples who live in large metropolitan areas;
  • Employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, and a greater likelihood of being uninsured exacerbate poverty among LGB people.

Because no representative data exist for transgender people, the report does not analyze poverty in that community.  Previous Williams Institute studies, however, found that large proportions of transgender people report very low incomes, which suggest that poverty is also a major concern for transgender people.

The report was released this morning at an informational briefing in the U.S. Capitol for members of Congress, their staff and media.  For the full report, visit http://www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute

The Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law & Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers and the public.

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