Contrary to media misperceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affluence, two new reports by the Williams Institute and Center for American Progress show the LGBT community continues to face higher rates of poverty, low wages, and economic insecurity than non-LGBT people.
The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), released its findings “that poverty remains a significant problem for LGBT people” in a report on September 13. The study found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would dramatically cut the poverty rate for same-sex couples -- a 46 percent drop for lesbian couples and a 35 percent decline for gay male couples. The author, economist M.V. Lee Badgett, noted that the study showed that the notion that the entire LGBT community is wealthy is nothing more than “a misleading stereotype” and that “raising the minimum wage would help everybody.” From the Williams Institute:
The Williams study follows a September 8 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that focused on the significant barriers that LGBT people face in accessing middle-class economic security. The study analyzes how anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and housing creates major hurdles for economic security, contributing to wage gaps faced by the LGBT community. CAP reported that up to 28 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans have been fired, not hired, or passed over for a promotion as a result of their orientation. As many as 47 percent of transgender Americans have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as “being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion” because of their gender identity, according to the report. CAP also noted that “LGBT people often struggle to find stable, affordable housing” and experience disparately higher out-of-pocket health care costs, which compounds the impact of economic insecurity experienced by LGBT people and their families.
Media frequently focus on the buying power and affluence of the LGBT community, and on companies that eagerly court the “pink dollar.” On July 20, when one marking firm -- Witeck Communications -- published its findings that LGBT American buying power reached $917 billion in 2015, it was picked up by Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, CNBC, and USA Today. While another study quoted by Business Insider claimed LGBT Americans take “16% more shopping trips” and have more disposable income than their straight counterparts -- claims echoed by a Nielsen study published in the National Journal in 2015.
Gary Gates of the Williams Institute told The Atlantic in 2014 that the downside of this media-created perception “is that those marketing studies looked at the LGBT community as a consumer market” and may only be seeing LGBT Americans who are in an economically secure enough situation to come out. Marketing studies don’t show that LGBT individuals face higher rates of poverty than their non-LGBT counterparts, or that 29 percent of LGBT Americans have experienced food insecurity in the last year. Right-wing media use the myth of LGBT affluence to dismiss LGBT discrimination and claim laws protecting the LGBT community are not needed. Currently, there is no federal law that protects people from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. CAP concluded its reporting by noting that the best way to address LGBT economic insecurity would be the passage of a broad-based federal nondiscrimination law called The Equality Act -- which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, employment, and housing.