In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re not only celebrating women’s past accomplishments — we’re looking at ways in which we can make the future better for women and girls right here in our own community. We’re exploring what we can all do to help women and girls achieve more, go further and have a brighter future.
Throughout the month and beyond, we’ll be highlighting findings from our new report 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area in a wide variety of areas. Portrait Project 2010 gives a clear and current look at the lives of women and girls across the region and it is divided by subject matter.
For women in our community, the surest path to economic security is a job with family-sustaining wages, benefits and opportunities for career progression. But not every woman has access to these critical elements, and Portrait Project 2010 takes a look at why this is the case – and how to improve the situation – in two sections titled: “Education, Training, Employment, and Earnings” and “Work Supports.”
An Overview of Education, Training, Employment & Earnings
A look at the gaps:
In the first section, the statistics about education and wages really highlight the divide in region. Women in the DC area have much higher than average education levels: half of all women have bachelor’s or graduate degree compared to 27 percent of women in the U.S. overall. Women in the region also have higher labor force participation rates (68 percent) than the national average (60 percent). And 72 percent of Latinas and 71 percent of black women are in the labor force, compare to 66 percent of white and Asian women.
Additionally, the median annual earnings for women working full-time in our area are $51,338 – significantly higher than the national median of $35,471.
Despite those strengths, 27 percent of the women in the region only have a high school diploma or less. And Latinas and African American women are especially likely to have low educational attainment: 57 percent of Latinas and 39 percent of African American women have a high school degree or less.
And there are wage gaps that are dictated not only by gender, but by ethnicity, too. The median annual earning for white men in the region is $83,299. For white women, it’s $60,779. African American women who are employed full time make 45 percent less than white men ($46,138), while Latinas make 63 percent less than white men ($30,831).
Starting With Stronger Foundations:
According to Portrait Project 2010: “education is crucial to women’s economic success, with higher levels of education consistently leading to higher earnings.”
Starting early with a strong educational foundation is critical and research shows that quality early care and education can provide children with skills that will help them improve their chances of completing high school. The benefits of a good educational foundation early on are particularly profound for low-income children.
Nationwide, community colleges are playing a significant role in helping adults gain skills and credentials to improve their career and earning prospects. This is particularly true for women who make up the majority of community college students.
Portrait Project 2010 suggests educating policymakers, opinion leaders and funders about the unique education, training and employment needs of women and girls to ensure that they are well-prepared for lifelong learning and economic success.
The report also notes that it is likely that, in the future, more jobs will require post secondary education or training beyond high school; it recommends that we work to determine which industries and occupations are likely to grow in the futures so as to determine the best ways to prepare women for those positions.
Work Supports Can Help Level the Playing Field
Having a job with good wages and the opportunity for mobility isn’t enough. In spite of a major shift in womens’ work patterns, women continue to shoulder the majority of childcare, eldercare and household responsibilities, leading to substantial stress. Work supports can help women better balance work and family. “This is especially important for low-income mothers who typically face steep work-related costs,” according to Portrait Project 2010.
Subsidized child care, paid sick leave, assistance with transportation costs and public assistance can help women get jobs and keep them.
Portrait Project 2010 found that the average annual cost of full-time, center-based infant care in DC is 52 percent of the median annual income of a single mother. The cost is more than one-third of the average annual income of a single mother in Maryland and Virginia. In spite of those high costs, federal cutbacks led to significant reduction in the number of subsidized child care slots in our region.
Although it is women who handle most of the child care in our country, women receive less sick and vacation leave in comparison with men. Nationwide, 47 percent of women lack paid sick days. And low-wage workers – most of whom are women – are the least likely to have paid sick days.
Portrait Project 2010 also points to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program as one way to provide support for low-income families. “States can use TANF to provide financial support for services needed by low-income families to enter the workforce and stay employed. For example, states can choose to finance child care both through direct TANF expenditures and by transferring TANF funds to CCDBG [Child Care & Development Block Grants],” according to the report.
For more details, you can read Portrait Project 2010 online by clicking here.