Poverty in the LGBTQ Community; Ohio and Nationally

Poverty in the LGBTQ Community; Ohio and Nationally

June is Pride Month, a time of celebration for the LGBTQ community, and we should recognize and honor comprehensive lived experiences.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nationally, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) respondents to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS) were more likely than non-LGBT respondents to experience economic and mental health hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.”[1] The picture is the same in Ohio.

In July 2021, the U.S Census Bureau began collecting information on the sexual orientation and gender identity of respondents as part of its Household Pulse Survey. The Household Pulse Survey collects and reports data in near real time and provides insights on how American households are coping with the social and economic effects of Covid-19. Nationally, nearly 8 percent of respondents to the survey self-selected that they were LGBT. If this percentage were applied to the population as a whole it would mean 20 million adults in the United States identifying themselves as LGBT. This is a much larger number than has been suggested by previous research.

LGBT Ohioans twice as likely to struggle with household expenses

In the most recently released U.S. Census Pulse Survey data, Ohioans who identified themselves as LGBT were twice as likely (27%) as those who identified themselves as straight (13%) to report that it had been “very difficult” to pay their usual household expenses in the last 7 days.

They were also slightly more likely than straight persons to report that they were “not at all confident” that they could pay their rent the following month. This may explain in part the fact that those identifying as LGBT were more three times more likely to report feeling anxious every day, and four times as likely to report feeling “down, depressed, or hopeless” every day.

Housing insecurity rates for LGBT renters of color

Race and gender also important in understanding LGBT poverty in the United States. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development examined the data nationally by cross-tabulating data by race, ethnicity, and housing insecurity. They found that housing insecurity metrics were higher for LGBTQI+ black and Hispanic renter households than for their non-LGBTQI+ black and Hispanic counterparts.

LGBTQI+ white renters exhibited housing insecurity rates similar to those of their non-LBGTQI+ counterparts.[2]

Bisexual and transgender people experience poverty at nearly 30%

An issue brief published by the Institute for Research on Poverty reviewed several sources related to LGBT poverty and concluded that “Cis gay men have the lowest overall poverty rate (12.1 percent), with cis straight men only slightly higher (13.4 percent). Cis straight women, cis lesbian women, and cis bisexual men comprise a second group at 17.8 percent, 17.9 percent and 19.5 percent, respectively. A marked jump in poverty rates exists among cis bisexual women and transgender people, both experiencing an average poverty rate of 29.4 percent.”[3]

Housing discrimination and food insecurity among transgender people

It’s long been understood that transgender persons face significant discrimination in employment and housing. Thirty percent of respondents to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Study reported that they had experienced homelessness in their lifetimes. According to Census Pulse Survey data analyzed by the Williams Institute, between June and October 2021 more than a quarter of transgender adults reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat, for transgender persons of color the numbers were even worse, with nearly 36 percent experienced food insecurity[4].

Nearly a third of the youth in Cuyahoga County’s foster care system identified as LGBTQ+.

Family rejection, foster care, and childhood poverty increases rates of adult poverty

Young adults who identify as LGBT can be particularly vulnerable to poverty due to continuing risks of family rejection and its consequences. The 2021 Cuyahoga Youth Count: A Report on LGBTQ+ Youth Experience in Foster Care found that nearly a third of the youth in Cuyahoga County’s foster care system identified as LGBTQ+. That’s compared to a 9.2% nationwide average of youth age 13-17 identifying as LGBTQ+.

The transition to adulthood from foster care can be challenging, and per the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio, “Ohio trails national averages in terms of positive outcomes for former foster youth after leaving care in regards to attainment of a high school diploma or GED, attaining stable housing, and securing full or part time employment.” This can leave LGBTQ+ youth leaving foster care in a precarious economic situation.

Pathways into Poverty Lived Experiences Among LGBTQ People found in 2020 that there was a high likelihood that LGBT people living in poverty as adults had also experienced childhood poverty. In fact, 73% of the respondents, 97% of whom identified as a sexual orientation and or gender identity minority, reported having lived in poverty early in life. When the data was broken down by race and or ethnicity, the numbers were even higher.

Legislation can make LGBT lives better or worse, and Ohio is doing both

The roots of LGBT poverty are the result in part of the lack of federal and or state protection against discrimination. LGBT persons in Ohio have no statewide protection against being fired from their job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Ohio Fairness Act – Senate Bill 119 would make it illegal in Ohio to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The legislation, sponsored by State Senators Nickie Antonio and Michael Rulli and introduced in March, 2021 has languished in the Ohio General Assembly without even sponsor testimony being held.

In contrast to bills meant to protect the LGBT community, Ohio House Bill 616, the so called “don’t say race don’t say gay” bill was introduced on April 4, 2022 and had its first hearing less than a month later. The legislation would restrict school instruction on “divisive concepts” and include prohibitions on instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Yet another bill, Ohio House Bill 61 would ban transgender girls and woman from competing in female interscholastic sports. In February of 2021. It did not have any hearings this year; there were two in 2021. On June 1st, the bill was amended onto the (unrelated) HB 151, which then passed the Ohio House and is currently pending in the Ohio Senate.

The U.S. Census Bureau cautions against drawing major conclusions from the Census Pulse Survey data above, due to sometimes small samples and resulting large error rates. But those results are consistent with what other non-governmental surveys have found. Moreover, we need only look to cultural evidence and legislative priorities to recognize how far we still need to go to protect LGBT people from undue poverty and pain.

[1] Thom File, Joey Marshall, Household Pulse Survey Shows LGBT Adults More Likely to Report Living in Households With Food and Economic Insecurity Than Non-LGBT Respondents, U.S Census Bureau, August, 2021

[2] Veronica Helms, Emily Molfino, and Ben Winter, Examining Housing Experiences by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, February 23, 2002

[3] Judith Siers-Poisson, The Complexity of LGBT Poverty in The United States, Institute For Research On Poverty, The University of Wisconsin at Madison, June, 2021

[4] Conron, K.J. & O’Neill, K. (2021). Food Insufficiency Among Transgender Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Williams Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.