Single Women Are An Untapped Political Force

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
By all accounts, Equal Pay Day was back in early-April, right? Well, sort of.
According to the Voter Participation Center (VPC), Equal Pay Day for unmarried women is May 31, 2017. In other words, single women have only now made as much money as men did in 2016. But while the wage gap is a huge problem, the organization's new report also emphasizes the significant impact unmarried women could have on American politics.
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VPC pulled data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows that single women — through death, divorce, separation, or never having wed — are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country. One out of every two women in the U.S., falls in that category, and one-in-four single women are also mothers.
"Single women are a very powerful, progressive political force, yet compared to married women, they under-register and don’t vote in as high percentages," says Page Gardner, the founder and president of the VPC. "Part of it is their lives are so stretched and stressed; almost half of them make minimum or sub-minimum wage. The second reason is [that] we make registering and voting somewhat difficult in this country."

Single women are a very powerful, progressive political force

VPC's report shows that nearly one-third of eligible unmarried women are not registered to vote, and more than one in 10 of the single women who were registered to vote, didn’t in 2016. Gardner points to well-publicized voting issues as being particularly hard on single women (and nonwhite, non-Republican voters). For example, she says, after the 2012 election, VPC held focus groups with unmarried women, and Gardner learned that long lines were a serious pain point for some single women who chose not to cast their ballot.
"A few women in one focus group said, 'I was in line, but I was looking at my watch and I knew that every 10 minutes I was late to pick up my child, I would have to pay money,'" she says. "If you’re late, you’re [often] fined, and that was something they could not afford."
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But not showing up at the polls can have devastating affects on this demographic — just look at the many ways Trump administration's policies have hurt women in just its first 100 days.
"These women, whether never married, widowed, separated, divorced are on their own," Gardner says. "They recognize that they may be one health crisis away from something that really could devastate their ability to support themselves or their family, and that will be more true if 'Trumpcare' comes to pass."
Because so many single women are low-income workers, slashing Medicare funding would sharply increase out-of-pocket costs and also lead to more women choosing to go without coverage or lacking access to it. (Things would get even worse in the event that Planned Parenthood is defunded.)
The broken record refrain when it comes to caregiving shows that women (globally) are still overwhelmingly responsible for looking after children and the elderly for little-to-no compensation. Many women, single and married, are pressed to step away from full-time jobs to fulfill those caregiving needs, and leaving them in the lurch is a policy problem with massive implications.
"[Better] policies will not be enacted until we get public officials that understand the lives of young and older women — particularly unmarried women," Gardner says. "What we need to do is register, vote, and make sure that the candidates we're looking to support, support us."
She points to automatic voter registration and vote by mail initiatives as crucial areas where women can further exercise their right to vote. In particular, the latter gives busy people time to consider the candidates fully, request a ballot, and cast their vote without standing in line. Larger policies that could be considered are measures to hold voting on weekends when many people's schedules are more flexible, making Election Day a national holiday, or encouraging businesses to give employees the day off to vote. There's no perfect work in which everyone will be able to make good on the opportunity, but with voter turnout in America lagging far behind other developed countries, ensuring that women can vote has potentially far-reaching benefits.
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