On the heels of International Women’s Day – which was celebrated last Friday, March 8th to honor and celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women – two new reports highlight the status of women and girls in North Carolina. Both deliver important messages that are at once sobering and hopeful and both are worth your time to explore.
The Status of Women in North Carolina was released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the North Carolina Council for Women. The report shows that despite women’s higher levels of education and their significant increase in labor force participation over the past decades, both wage and income inequality persist.
According to the report, between 1990 and 2010, in North Carolina:
- The share of women with at least a bachelor’s degree increased sharply from 16 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2010.
- The share of women who did not finish high school fell from 30 to 13 percent.
- The proportion of women in poverty increased from 14 to 17 percent
The fact that more women continue to fall into poverty (the state ranks 39th in the percent of women living above the poverty line) despite higher levels of education and career positions is explained in part by the wage gap. Women are still earning only 82.5 cents on the dollar compared to men in North Carolina.
In addition, women are much more likely to work for state and local government, and are thereby more vulnerable to budget cuts. And women still take on the majority of care-giving responsibilities, yet workplace policies don’t reflect this reality and quality child care often remains unaffordable. Moreover, unemployment for both men and women in North Carolina continues to be higher than the national average, and there simply aren’t enough jobs for every job-seeker.
The report recommends that employers take steps to address the wage gap, that child care supports and education supports are increased, and that services for domestic violence victims are expanded. As Beth Briggs of the North Carolina Council for Women said:
“There are under-recognized challenges and underserved communities, including single mothers, that need to be addressed through improved policy and programs.”
The report attempts to close what it describes as an “intelligence gap” by providing “detailed information about the dynamics that impact girls’ lives in North Carolina. Focusing on data from seven content areas—demographics and poverty, education, media engagement, physical health, mental health, sexual health, and leadership and civic engagement—the report highlights areas in which girls in North Carolina are making strides, areas in need of improvement and areas of disparity among girls.”
Like The Status of Women in North Carolina, the report on girls finds many hopeful and many discouraging trends. On the positive side, the report documents progress in closing the education achievement gap with boys, a decline in teen pregnancy rates and an increase in the number of girls who are breaking through past barriers to become engaged in leadership and civic activities.
Unfortunately, the report also documents huge and persistent poverty rates. It reports that “one in three African American, Latina and American Indian girls ages 5-17 are living in poverty; among girls under 5 years old, the number jumps to nearly 50%.”
Similarly discouraging data are found in such areas as physical health (in which both obesity and false impressions of obesity remain disturbingly prevalent), mental health (in which depression and thoughts of suicide continue to plague large numbers of high school girls), and even the field of “media engagement” (in which “one in five high school females and one in four middle school females reports being cyberbullied or harassed through new media technologies, which include texting, social media, instant messaging and email”).
The bottom line: North Carolina still has a long way to go in the effort to provide all women and girls with a genuine equal opportunity and it will take more than a merely benign or passive posture from state leaders to make it happen. Let’s hope both reports are spread far and wide and help provide an impetus for strong and intentional action to inspire additional progress in the very near future.
Sabine Schoenbach is a Policy Analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project.
(Image: B&W photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)