When the economy suffers, so do abused women. An extensive report by the National Institute of Justice found that the rate of violence against women increases as male unemployment increases. When an abused woman’s male partner is employed, the rate of violence (that is, the percentage of those surveyed reporting violence) is 4.7 percent. It increases to 7.5 percent when the male experiences one period of unemployment and jumps to 12.3 percent when there are two or more periods of unemployment.
We see this locally with an almost 50 percent increase in calls to Rachel Coalition’s hotline and a doubling in the number of women coming to us for counseling.
Now entering its 14th year of service to victims of abuse, Rachel Coalition, a division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, has become increasingly aware that economic security is a vital factor in a woman’s decision to leave or stay in an abusive relationship. Because the ability to survive financially outside the relationship may override issues of personal safety, we are making economic security a focus of our educational and advocacy efforts.
One client, who left a physically brutal marriage of 25 years, told us, “It would have been easier to stay. My ex doesn’t want to part with a cent and has been playing the court system — beating me up with legal motions rather than his fists. I feel as though I don’t have a voice in the courtroom. Legal assistance costs money. What does one do without any means of income?”
In the case of another abused woman, the justice system worked for her and she got her divorce, the house, and financial support for herself and the children. But today she and her children have been evicted from their foreclosed home and are in a homeless shelter. Why? Because the ex-husband stopped all support payments, fled the jurisdiction, and no one knows if he is even still in this country.
Non-payment of alimony and, more especially, non-payment of child support is the number one issue our clients tell us threatens their ability to make new lives for themselves and their children. With non-payment of support they are in a perfect catch-22 situation with few or no means to fight for enforcement or restitution of the financial support they are entitled to.
According to the National Office of Child Support Enforcement, the total amount of current support due for 2009 was over $32 billion. About 62 percent of that amount ($20 billion) was collected nationwide and distributed. Of that $12 billion in arrears, there was a decrease of 9.2 percent in collections when compared to 2008.
In New Jersey, the collection rate was 63.5 percent, which leaves the remainder of women and children relying on child support in the lurch.
The failure to collect child support in New Jersey is further compounded when the man leaves the state, or worse, the country. The New Jersey Office of Child Support estimates that one-third of New Jersey cases involve parents living in different states.
The second most important issue that faces women on leaving an abusive relationship is where they will live and what they can afford. In central New Jersey, one-bedroom apartments in garden apartment complexes run between $800 and $1,000 per month. If a woman is really lucky and smart, she might find one that includes heat and hot water, and with a one-year lease, and perhaps a month’s free rent.
And it is not unusual to find women in a one-car family lose access to that car when they leave, making the cost of transportation an additional economic factor. Access to transportation is also important if she needs job training and skills because she has been out of the job market.
If a woman is fortunate enough to have a job and can find an apartment she can afford, she is probably earning less than a man for comparable work. Working women in New Jersey make roughly 25 percent less than men doing the same job. Based on 2008 U.S. Census data, the median male salary in the state was $56,518, but for a woman it was $43,991.
While child care costs vary according to age of children, $100 per week is about the average per child. Only some employers offer on-site child care at reduced fees and few charities have money to cover child care, while school-based “latch key” programs can cost at least $400-$600 a month.
Because these and other factors prevent women from leaving an abusive relationship, Rachel Coalition is using the expertise and programs established by its partners to address issues of economic security. Jewish Women International has a program entitled LIFE$AVINGS: Financial Literacy for Young Women, which includes workshops and on-line resources for teens, college, and young professional women. The National Council of Jewish Women has instituted a national campaign called Higher Ground to end domestic violence by improving the economic status of women.
Working through our legal services committee, Rachel Coalition is monitoring federal and state legislation and ongoing advocacy efforts that promote policies to ensure economic security for all women and especially for the most vulnerable, the women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.