Women and children hurt most by eviction

Social services, charities struggle to help social services, charities struggle to help

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23 2013 11:05 p.m. MST

During the day, Carreon stayed at home with her young children. Every day at 5 p.m. she left for work. She wouldn't typically get home until four of five in the morning. "I might sleep for an hour or two before my kids were up and needed help getting ready for school," she said.

Around this time, she started experiencing complications related to her pregnancy, including bleeding and cramping. She went to the doctor. "The doctor told me that he didn't know how, but my baby was hanging on and that she must really want to live," said Carreon. "He told me that if I wanted to give my baby a chance at life, I needed to stop doing what I was doing," she added. In other words, she would have to quit her job and go on bed rest.

Tears well up in her eyes as she recounts the conversation. "How could I stop working when eight kids are depending on me? How could I ignore the life that was growing inside me?" she asked. "No mother should ever have to make that decision."

Carreon felt she didn't have much choice but continue to work, but she didn't forget about the child she was carrying. "I prayed every night that God would protect my baby and help her live," she said.

As the months passed, the baby managed to hang on, but Carreon struggled to make ends meet. Paying more than 50 percent of her monthly income for housing expenses was untenable. She worried how the financial stress they were in was traumatizing her children, already struggling with the fact that their father had been sent away.

By December, when Carreon's ninth child was born, the situation had gotten away from her. Two months behind on her rent and owing $1,800 to the gas company, Carreon received an eviction notice from her landlord.

Women get the brunt

In Milwaukee, where Desmond conducted his research, women made up about 60 percent of evicted tenants. He also found that while white men and women were evicted at about the same rate, black and Hispanic women were evicted significantly more often than men. Evictions among black women outranked those among men 2.5-to-1. Among Hispanics, the eviction rate for women compared to men was 1.78:1. Desmond suggests that structural factors explain these discrepancies.

"Women from these neighborhoods are overrepresented in eviction records because men from these neighborhoods are overrepresented in the criminal justice system," he said. Many landlords use the phrase 'no evictions or convictions' to determine who they will rent to. Women's names typically go on lease agreements, Desmond said, because they are less likely to have a criminal record.

Another factor is that men in high poverty neighborhoods have high unemployment rates. Women are more likely to work and so are more likely to have verifiable income, a prerequisite for getting a lease. For example, in 2011 black men had an unemployment rate of nearly 18 percent nationally while women's unemployment hovered just above 14 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The wage gap between men and women is also a factor, Desmond said. White women, for example, earn 78.1 percent of what white men earn, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. Part of the discrepancy comes from the fact that the jobs women tend to have pay less than men, but even when doing the same work, women make less than their male colleagues, and wages for people of color tend to be lower overall. African Americans earn 58.7 percent of what whites earn, while Hispanics earn 69.1 percent of what whites earn, according to 2010 Census data.

Compounding the problem is the fact that women, while earning less on average, are also more likely than men to be the custodial parents. The cost of feeding and dressing children increases monthly expenses, often putting them in a position of greater financial hardship than men. Desmond also notes that landlords tend to discriminate against mothers with children because kids can be hard on apartments and create noise. "Far from acting as a mitigating factor in the eviction decision, then, children often are an aggravating one," Desmond noted.

A downward spiral

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