People lead tough lives in hard-time Philadelphia.

But the toughest life to lead in this area is that of an African American or Latina woman.

And there's very little indication that will change any time soon.

That's the bad news from a report being released today by Women's Way, a nationally respected philanthropic and advocacy group in Center City.

The report shows women's economic standing to be stagnant, given a continuing gender wage gap and the unending ravages of poverty in the five-county area.

Greater numbers of women are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and poverty rates among the elderly are increasing.

While the idea that many minority women in the area are poor is hardly earth-shattering, the report illustrates one grim fact: These conditions haven't changed since previous Women's Way reports over the past years.

"There really wasn't any happy news to impart," said Melissa Weiler Gerber, executive director of Women's Way, a nonprofit advocacy group that is America's oldest and largest women's funding organization.

"We wanted indisputable data to show that . . . women here have not reached equality - not even well-off women. And for women of color, that promise of equality is nowhere near being met."

And, Gerber acknowledges, things might be even worse than the report contends, because much of the data in it was collected before the current economic crisis took hold.

Many of the report's statistics, based on U.S. census and other federal data, are startling: While Philadelphia-area women make just 76 cents on the dollar compared with men, black women make only 56 percent of white male earnings. Throughout the nation, women of all races earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.

"The equal-pay issue leaps out of the report," said Marianne Bellesorte, director of policy at PathWays PA, an advocacy group based in Holmes, Delaware County, that provides services for women and children. "There's been very little change in women's income since 2000.

"Women typically end up in certain jobs considered women's jobs: health-care support and child care. Parking attendants make more than child care, and parking attendants are usually men. You'd think a child-care worker would be paid more."

Overall, 29 percent of African American and 39 percent of Latina women in the region live in poverty, compared with 16 percent of Asian women and 7 percent of white women.

What's more, more than one in three families headed by single mothers live in poverty.

Black women constitute 20 percent of the female labor force in the area. Yet only 7 percent of them work in the sciences; 8 percent in arts, design and media; and 6 percent in construction.

Conversely, black women constitute 36 percent of women working in social-service jobs, and 47 percent of women in health-care support.

These jobs don't pay well. Median earnings are $24,872 annually, which is $5,000 less than the overall median salary of women in the area.

The report also highlighted the large number of older women in poverty.

Older women are more likely to be poor than older men. In this area, some 13 percent of women 65 and older live below the poverty line, compared with 8 percent of elderly men.

Within the 65-and-over age group, 24 percent of black women, 43 percent of Latinas, and 22 percent of Asian women live below the poverty line. Comparatively, just 9 percent of white women 65 and older are poor.

It's not surprising to advocates that women suffer relative to men.

"There's always been a gender gap and wage gap," said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. "Women must pull double duty as economic providers and child-care providers."

The extra responsibility of child care has traditionally compelled many women - especially poor women - to work part-time in jobs that offer little money or security, Morgan said.

"The cultural burden on women of caring for children is international and has never been overcome through time," despite the gains women have made in the job market.

The key to breaking the cycle of women in poverty is education, said Sydelle Zove, policy advocate at the coalition. "Education provides the exit route out of poverty," she said, "but many people can't afford to be educated anymore, with much less money available for loans."

That's a problem facing Angela Sutton, a 31-year-old single mother of two living in poverty in North Philadelphia. Sutton is also a student at Community College of Philadelphia.

"The stress of school and survival takes a toll on your mothering skills," she said. "It's a man's world, and women have to sacrifice to work and to be with their children. For us not to be paid what we're worth is unfair.

"It affects our self-esteem. It's an ongoing cycle. And it's getting worse."

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.