Highlights from The Women’s Foundation’s Analysis of 2015 Poverty Data

Our analysis of the newly released data from the American Community Survey found women’s poverty rates during 2015 continue to be substantially above the poverty rates for men; that among women, single women with children and women of color are more likely to live below the poverty threshold; and that poverty rates vary considerably across jurisdictions. The Washington Region faces some of the largest disparities in women’s poverty in the United States.

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  • Poverty rates have fluctuated with the economy, but no substantial long-term progress has been made across the region overall or in any particular jurisdiction.
  • The percent of women and girls living in poverty in our region decreased in every jurisdiction during 2015 except in Montgomery County. Overall, the poverty rate for women and girls in the region went from 10.6 percent in 2014 to 10 percent last year.
  • The poverty rate for men and boys in 2015, 8.1 percent, also diminished from 8.3 percent in 2014.
  • Women’s poverty rate in the District of Columbia (18.4 percent) is by far the highest poverty rate for women and girls among the jurisdictions that comprise the Washington region.
  • Prince George’s County (10.4 percent) and the City of Alexandria (9.7 percent) have the highest poverty rates for women after the District of Columbia. Women living in Fairfax County (6.7 percent) are the least likely to be poor.
  • Women’s poverty has been steadily increasing in Montgomery County for most of the past decade. With the exception of 2011, women’s poverty has increased year after year, while men’s poverty has decreased several times since 2010.
  • Female-headed households with children reached a poverty rate of 26.6 percent while only 3.2 percent of married-couple families in a comparable group lived below poverty across the region. In the District of Columbia the poverty rate for female-headed households was 40.3 percent. The lowest rate was 14.2 percent in Arlington County.
  • Of families with children living in poverty in the Washington Region, 66.8 percent were headed by single women. The jurisdictions with the largest share of poor families headed by single women were the District of Columbia (82.5 percent) and Alexandria (75.4 percent).
  • About 15.1 percent of Black women and 14.7 percent of Latinas in the region lived below the poverty level, a considerably higher rate than the 4.9 percent for White, non-Hispanic women.
  • The District of Columbia has the largest concentration of Black women in poverty (27.9 percent) while Prince George’s County has the largest concentration of White (7.8 percent) and Latina women in poverty (19.7 percent).

The Women’s Foundation is committed to building pathways out of poverty for women and girls across our region. As we work to achieve our mission, we recognize the value of having the most updated data on the status of women and girls in our community at our fingertips. We constantly analyze and disaggregate survey data to shed light on the issues that impact the program areas we direct our grant investments. We hope this knowledge becomes a valuable resource to our Grantee Partners and organizations that share our mission to help support a woman’s journey to economic security.

 

Highlights from The Women’s Foundation’s Analysis of 2014 Poverty Data

Our latest detailed analysis on women’s poverty (available in a series of fact sheets on our website!) found women’s poverty rates continue to be substantially above the poverty rates for men; that among women, single women with children and women of color are more likely to live below the poverty threshold; and that poverty rates vary considerably across jurisdictions. The Washington Region faces some of the largest disparities in women’s poverty in the United States.

WAWF Poverty Rates

  • Poverty rates have fluctuated with the economy, but no substantial long-term progress has been made across the region overall or in any particular jurisdiction.
  • The percent of women and girls living in poverty in our region is at its highest point since 2005, increasing from 8.8 percent in that year to 10.6 percent in 2014.
  • The poverty rate for men and boys in 2014, 8.3 percent, was lower than for women and girls and has remained steady since 2010.
  • Women’s poverty rate in the District of Columbia (19.2 percent) is by far the highest poverty rate for women and girls among the jurisdictions that comprise the Washington region—almost twice as large as the average poverty rate for women across the region (10.6 percent).
  • Women’s poverty has been steadily increasing in Montgomery County for the past nine years. With the exception of 2011, women’s poverty has increased year after year, while men’s poverty has decreased several times since 2010.
  • Female-headed households with children reached a poverty rate of 25.1 percent while only four percent of married-couple families in a comparable group lived below poverty across the region. In the District of Columbia the poverty rate for female-headed households was 38.5 percent. The lowest rate was 17.6 percent in Prince George’s County.
  • Of families with children living in poverty in the Washington Region, 63.3 percent were headed by single women. The largest share of these families was concentrated in the District of Columbia (81.5 percent) and Alexandria (63.6 percent).
  • About 15.0 percent of Black women and 13.2 percent of Latinas in the region lived below the poverty level, a considerably higher rate than the 5.2 percent for White, non-Hispanic women.
  • The District of Columbia has the largest concentration of Black women in poverty (27.3 percent) while Prince George’s County has the largest concentration of White (9.2 percent) and Latina women in poverty (20.5 percent).

The Women’s Foundation is committed to building pathways out of poverty for women and girls across our region. As we work to achieve our mission, we recognize the value of having the most updated data on the status of women and girls in our community at our fingertips. We constantly analyze and disaggregate survey data to shed light on the issues that impact the program areas we direct our grant investments. We hope this knowledge becomes a valuable resource to our Grantee Partners and organizations that share our mission to help support a woman’s journey to economic security.

Women’s Poverty on the Rise

The Women’s Foundation is committed to building pathways out of poverty for women and girls across our region. As we work to achieve our mission, we recognize the value of having the most updated data on the status of women and girls in our community at our fingertips. We constantly analyze and disaggregate survey data to shed light on the issues that impact the program areas we direct our grant investments. This knowledge enables us to be better positioned to invest in programs and strategies that effectively support a woman’s journey to economic security.

Our latest analysis on women’s poverty (available in a series of fact sheets on our website!) reveals a discouraging but well-known story for those of us interested in the issue. Years into the economic recovery and poverty rates are still on the rise for women. The number of women living in poverty in our region increased once again—from 10.2 percent in 2013 to 10.6 percent in 2014. While women’s poverty rates continues to rise, the poverty rate for men in our region has remained steady at 8.3 percent since 2010.

PoveTrend

Single women with children and women of color face a higher risk of falling below the poverty threshold—$19,790 for a family of three in 2014. Currently, 25.1 percent of the female-headed households with children in our region are raising their families in poverty. Overall, about 15 percent of Black women and 13.2 percent of Latinas are struggling with economic hardship across the region as well.

There are many reasons why women fall below the poverty threshold, including unemployment, barriers to accessing education, lack of affordable childcare, and discrimination and the persistent gender wage gap. But one of the key factors is low-quality and low-income jobs. Many women in our region are working more than full-time at poverty-level wages with little to no benefits. The cost of living in the Washington region makes it nearly impossible for these women and their families to make ends meet. For instance, a family of three (one adult and two children) living below the poverty line in the District of Columbia earns only about $19,790 in a year; but, in order to meet basic needs, that same family would require an annual income of at least $85,000.

There are some key steps we can take to help women on the path to economic security, including: adopting critical policies and supports like quality, affordable early care and education; strengthening available safety net programs, and encouraging jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits. We must also raise awareness about the needs and vulnerabilities of women with the recognition that their economic security isn’t just a “women’s issue.”

Our latest analysis on women’s poverty is an important reminder that the work we do together is crucial to our community. In collaboration with our Grantee Partners and our Donors, we are helping women access basic education, enroll in workforce development programs, get new jobs, access financial education programs and find high-quality and affordable early care and education for their children. Recognizing that gender matters, we are investing in women, and in doing so we impact entire families and communities.

Statement from Prosperity Together Regarding President Obama’s FY17 Budget

Statement from Prosperity Together Regarding President Obama’s FY17 Budget

 

Nonpartisan, National Coalition of Women’s Foundations Strongly Supports President Obama’s Budget Provisions Expanding Opportunities for Women and Working Families

 

Prosperity Together, a nonpartisan coalition of public women’s foundations from across the country announced today its support of the investments outlined in President Obama’s Budget to expand opportunity, promote equality and build economic stability for women and working families in America. These efforts include: expanding paid leave, promoting equal pay for equal work, enforcing worker protection laws, increasing the minimum wage, supporting women-owned businesses, creating pathways to high-growth jobs and ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare, housing and early care and education.

Prosperity Together applauds the President’s continued commitment to community-based solutions that partner government with philanthropy and corporations to create pathways to economic security for low-income women in America.

 

“In our region, Washington Area Women’s Foundation serves as the only donor-supported, public foundation solely focused on improving the economic security of women and girls,” said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, president and CEO of Washington Area Women’s Foundation. “We commend the President’s leadership in taking a number of steps to expand opportunities for women and families, which will have positive ripple effect across entire communities. We believe that when women are strong, communities are strong.”

 

This year, Washington Area Women’s Foundation awarded $820,000 in grants to 22 local nonprofits dedicated to improving the economic security of low-income women and girls in the Washington metropolitan region. This grant docket follows the collective funding commitment of Prosperity Together and will reach more than 4,000 women and girls in the region, potentially increasing their collective assets and incomes by nearly $4.5 million over the next year alone.

 

About Prosperity Together

Prosperity Together is a nonpartisan coalition of public women’s foundations from across the country dedicated to improving the economic security of low-income women and their families. On November 13 at The White House, Prosperity Together announced a five-year, $100 million funding commitment to invest in programs and strategies that will create pathways to economic security for low-income women in America. Prosperity Together demonstrates the critical role and power of women’s foundations to drive this work in communities, state by state, across the country. For more information, click here.

 

About Washington Area Women’s Foundation

Washington Area Women’s Foundation is a DC-based public foundation dedicated to mobilizing our community to ensure that economically vulnerable women and girls in the Washington region have the resources they need to thrive. Learn more about The Women’s Foundation’s mission to transform the lives of women and girls, the Washington region, and the world by visiting us online, on Facebook or on Twitter.

 

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Two-Generation Pilot Program Launching Summer 2015

In the fall of 2013, The Women’s Foundation announced a new strategy – one that sought to invest in the long-term economic security of girls in our region. We asked organizations to consider how they could support middle school girls specifically (an important time for decisions about health, education, and relationships – but a time period that is often under-resourced and under-funded). We also specifically asked organizations to consider how they could invest in these girls AND invest in their mothers, grandmothers, aunts… whomever was their family caregiver. The idea is to invest in two generations simultaneously, helping to improve prospects for both family economic security in the short-term and girls’ economic security in the long-term.

Map from Girls Issue Brief unbranded Flash forward to today, and a pilot of this model is preparing to launch in DC. College Success Foundation-DC and the YWCA of the National Capital Area are partnering to leverage each organization’s core strengths and services, building a program that holistically engages middle school girls and their families. Their first partner school site is Chavez Prep Middle School in Columbia Heights. There, staff from College Success and the YWCA are banding together with an initiative to provide particular programs and supports for girls. A tailored curriculum will support girls’ education and on-time grade progression, leadership development, and healthy choices, while also connecting mothers to education and job training, financial tools, case management and other supportive services that can help strengthen the family’s economic security.

The program also has a special emphasis on strengthening the relationship between daughter and mother. For example, following girls-only and mother-only group breakout sessions, there are opportunities to come back together in facilitated group activities and discussion – on topics about health, communication, or education. Likewise, there are opportunities for mothers and daughters to experience things like their first college campus visit in “safe” ways. For a girl, these visits help her envision all the possibilities for her future. For a mom, these visits offer an opportunity to visit a campus together with other moms, consider the future college experience that’s possible for her daughter but may be foreign to her, and to think about her own interests in education or workforce training.

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At a recent Women’s Foundation briefing for investors in this work, a moderated panel included students from Chavez Prep. As one student explained it, she saw great strength in her family. Women were the matriarchs and anchors in her life. But as an immigrant family, she knew her mom and others didn’t have the skills that they needed in the US, to contribute to the community how she knew they could. She loved the afterschool program where she could be with other girls and talk about important topics. She couldn’t wait for her mom to be able to engage meaningfully in a program like this too, and for them to do it together.

We look forward to updating you on the results of this summer’s pilot program, and then the next steps to take lessons learned and launch the program on a larger scale, to serve more women and girls in our community. In the meantime, check out the new research we just released on the status of girls in the Washington region. And if you’re interested in investing to make this work a success, contact Megan Machnik at mmachnik@wawf.org.

Goals of Girls Work

 

The Women’s Foundation was selected to be part of the Ascend Network, based out of the Aspen Institute. We’re one of 58 organizations selected from 24 states and the District of Columbia, representing the leading edge of a national movement around two-generation approaches. Learn more here.

Investing in Girls in the Washington Region

Download the complete Girls Issue Brief here: Girls Issue Brief 2015

In 2005, The Women’s Foundation launched Stepping Stones, a multi-year, regional initiative focused on building the economic security of low-income women and girls. Grant investments support key issues identified in our Portrait Project research as pivotal to economic security: jobs and career readiness, financial education and wealth creation opportunities, and quality early care and education.

Historically, Stepping Stones investments have focused on building the economic security of low-income women – and particularly female-headed households, which research has shown are the most economically vulnerable families in our community. However, for many women and girls in our region, poverty is multigenerational. The Women’s Foundation recently expanded its target population to take a life cycle approach, and now includes all women and girls under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Through our Stepping Stones work, the Foundation then launched a new strategy in 2013 for investing in our community’s girls.

A Snapshot of the Issue

As young girls develop into women, there are clear and critical markers that can support or challenge their future economic security. Adolescence is an important opportunity to build foundational skills, encourage positive choices, and reinforce girls’ health and well-being so that they can attain economic security in adulthood.

Key goals for investing in girls are to:

– Empower girls as social change agents
Girls are an asset to our community, and have the potential to shape and lead change in their families and neighborhoods. Girls should be encouraged to advocate for themselves, for others, and to mobilize their communities in meaningful ways. By supporting the positive development of girls, we can break the cycle of generational poverty, and build racial and gender equity in our region.

– Support high school completion
As of 2008, one in ten girls in the region did not complete high school. For girls of color in our region, the disparities are glaring: while 6 percent of white girls did not complete high school, 37 percent of Latina girls, 14 percent of Asian girls, and 12 percent of African American girls did not complete high school.[i]

High school graduation is a critical determinant of economic security, affecting long-term earning potential. By 2018, it is projected that only 8 percent of job openings in Maryland, and 9 percent of job openings in DC and Virginia, will be available for high school dropouts.[ii] With a high school diploma, workers can earn 82 percent more than those who did not complete high school.[iii]

– Encourage positive choices that decrease risky behavior and early pregnancy, and increase health and well-being
Girls who become teen parents are more likely to drop out of school, earn less, and live in poverty. Only 40 percent of teen mothers are likely to have graduated from high school and just 2 percent of girls who have children before age 18 finish college by age 30.[iv]

While teen pregnancy rates are dropping nationally and in the region, rates in parts of the region remain some of the highest in the country. Furthermore, despite reductions in the teen pregnancy rate, the overall number of teen births remains stubbornly high in some communities. For example, in 2011 in the District, 58% of all births to teens aged 15-19 were in Wards 7 and 8.[v]

Our Approach

In our research, we found a dearth of programs focused on girls in general – and especially girls in middle school – as well as a lack of data or research on issues facing girls. This critical gap made it clear that it was important to target our initial investments to focus on middle school aged girls.

To translate the key goals for investing in girls:

– For middle school aged girls, supporting high school completion in the long-term means supporting academic readiness, encouraging school engagement, providing opportunities for college and career exposure, and developing 21st century skills and competencies that help girls build a positive vision for their futures and ensure that they are prepared for tomorrow’s economy.

– For middle school aged girls, encouraging positive choices that decrease risky behavior and early pregnancy means providing leadership development opportunities that build a positive sense of self, fostering relationships with parents and caring adults that provide support and guidance, and increasing access to comprehensive sex education. Additionally, a focus on girls’ health and well-being includes good nutrition, physical exercise, and the importance of positive body image.

Furthermore, beyond supporting girls alone, The Women’s Foundation asserts that there is a need for two-generation strategies – that is, strategies that simultaneously work to improve the economic security of girls and their mothers together. Despite promising research that two-generation programs and policies can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, our research could not identify any significant program that combines a two-generation approach with an intentional effort to reach the critical demographic of middle school girls. Through a cohort model – working with both girls and their mothers or female caregivers – The Foundation seeks to spark new strategies, support programs bringing a gender lens to this work, and understand changes in positive outcomes and economic security that exceed isolated work with youth or their parents.

Finally, The Women’s Foundation will begin its investments with a targeted place-based approach, focused on Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, Maryland. While the Foundation recognizes significant poverty rates in every jurisdiction in our region, this narrow geography will allow for an initial focus on neighborhoods with the greatest density of girls and women in need, and allow for tailored, deep work within each community.

For More Information

Contact Program Officer Lauren Stillwell at lstillwell@wawf.org or 202.347.7737.

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[i] 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Washington Area Women’s Foundation. 2010. PDF File. Web. 24 Sep 2013. <http://thewomensfoundation.org/wp-content/themes/wawf/images/Portrait_Project_2010_Complete_Report.pdf>.

[ii] Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith, and John Strohl. Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2010. PDF File. p. 121-122. Web. 24 Sep 2013. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/FullReport.pdf>.

[iii] Ibid., p. 95.

[iv] Shuger, Lisa. Teen Pregnancy and High School Dropout: What Communities are Doing to Address These Issues. Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and America’s Promise Alliance, 2012. ASHX file. p. 1. Web. 24 Sep 2013. <http://www.americaspromise.org/News-and-Events/News-and-Features/2012-News/June/~/media/Files/Resources/teen-pregnancy-and-hs-dropout-print.ashx>.

[v] “Data.” DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, n.d. Web. 24 Sep 2013. <http://www.dccampaign.org/#!__data>.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2014

Best of 2014 graphicWe can’t believe we’re finding ourselves at the end of yet another awesome year. While 2014 has flown by, there’s still time to slow down a bit and reflect on all that 2014 held for us as a foundation, a region and a nation.

This past year The Women’s Foundation grants of over $1 million touched the lives of 6,000 women and girls in our region, and the African American Women’s Giving Circle and Rainmakers Giving Circle invested an additional $80,000 in women and girls. We witnessed the launch of national initiatives like The Shriver Report, blew past our annual Leadership Luncheon fundraising goal (again!) and continued lifting the voices of women and girls in our community. We captured these and other events in our top blog posts from 2014, below.

1, 2, and 3. Grantmaking: In the blog posts 2014 Grants Will Help 6,000 Women & Girls, Rainmakers Giving Circle – Five Grants Awarded, and African American Women’s Giving Circle Celebrates Ten Years we highlight an amazing year of grantmaking at the Foundation and the profound impacts that these investments can have. These blogs remind us of the power of collective giving and how transformative change comes from standing together.

4. #WhatWomenNeed – A Call to Action: The Shriver Report catapulted the conversation about women and poverty to a national level dialogue when it was released in January. In this blog post, we explore the report’s actionable items and how women’s funds are uniquely positioned to make a difference.

5. Adult Education and Family Literacy in Our Region: This year The Women’s Foundation happily welcomed Claudia Williams to our staff as our Research and Evaluation Program Officer. Claudia has been busy analyzing data and turning it into digestible, yet data packed blog posts, like this one for Adult Education and Family Literacy Week.

6. High School Credential Opening Doors of Opportunity: During Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, our Grantee Partner, Academy of Hope, inspired us with their guest blog post about one of their learners, Beverly, and the doors that have opened to her since earning her high school credential.

7. Black History Month: Four Ways the Work of the Civil Rights Movement Continues in 2014: In this blog piece, we explore four ways that the Civil Rights Movement continues to affect us all today, and the critical role that organizations like The Women’s Foundation can play in ensuring that all women have a seat at the table and a forum for their voices.

8. In Her Words: Transportation Barriers: In this powerful blog piece, we were able to offer a platform to the voice of Katrice Brooks, a student at our Grantee Partner So Other’s Might Eat (SOME) Center for Employment Training (CET). Katrice explained the obstacles that she faces with transportation and how these hinder her efforts to take advantage of opportunities to provide a better life for herself and her daughter.

9 and 10. Gender Pay Gap: This year we celebrated the 51st anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and saw President Obama sign legislation aimed at narrowing the pay gap for women who work for federal contractors. However, we still live with the reality that women make less than their male counterparts. In the blog piece Closing the Gender Wage Gap: Why We Can’t Afford to Wait, Foundation President Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat explains why the time is now to close the gender pay gap. In The Gender Wage Gap, Unveiled, Research and Evaluation Program Officer Claudia Williams provides data on the gender pay gap in our region and reminds us that, with four in ten American households with children now relying on a mother as the primary breadwinner for her family, closing the pay gap has never been more critical.

A Look at the 2013 Poverty Data For Our Region

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data that gives us a snapshot of what poverty was like in 2013 in the Washington region. The data shows that poverty rates have slightly increased from 2012 and that women continue to be more likely than men to experience economic insecurity. This means they can barely afford paying their basic necessities such as food, housing, health insurance, and transportation. Roughly 10 percent, or almost 210,000 women and girls, in our region lived in poverty, compared with 159,700 men and boys, or 8 percent. Things were worst for families headed by single mothers—almost a quarter were poor— and for women of color—about 14 percent of Latinas and 16 of percent of African-American women struggled with poverty compared with only 6 percent of White women.

Poverty Data chart

There are many reasons why families fall below the poverty threshold, including unemployment, the persistent gender wage gap, barriers to accessing education and discrimination. But one of the key factors is low-quality and low-income jobs. Many women in our region are working more than full-time at poverty-level wages with little to no benefits. That means, for example, supporting a family of four with less than $24,000  last year.  In a region like ours, where costs of housing, food and transportation are among the highest in the nation, $24,000 is not nearly enough to make a living. According to the Economic Security Index calculated by Wider Opportunities for Women, a family of four composed of two workers, an infant and a school child need an approximate annual income of $117,880 in the District of Columbia and $103,960 in Prince George’s County, for example, to meet their basic needs without receiving any public or private assistance.

The newly released data highlights the urgency of the work we are doing at The Women’s Foundation. In collaboration with our Grantee Partners we are helping women access basic education, enroll in workforce development programs, access financial education programs and find high-quality and affordable early care and education for their children. Such efforts help build their economic security and give them the opportunity to achieve their goals. Securing stable employment with living wages can alleviate the burden of living pay-check to pay-check and the constant worrying about how to make ends meet and care for their families, while allowing them to save and plan for a bright future.

Based on the stories we hear from our Grantee Partners and learn from our evaluation efforts we know we are impacting women’s lives. Maya was enrolled in one of YearUp’s workforce development programs. The odds were against her. She was living in a low-cost housing complex for mothers with many rules that made her participation in the program more challenging. She had to miss several days to take care of her sick child and money was always a concern for her, but she pushed through these obstacles and exceled at her classes and job internship. Upon graduation from the program she secured a full-time job with benefits and a salary that lifted her and her son out of poverty and changed the trajectory of their lives.

As we continue supporting the work of our Grantee Partners many more lives and families like Maya’s will be impacted. In the meantime, the updated poverty numbers are an important reminder that the work we do together is crucial to our community. We still have a long way to go before we realize a future where all women are economically secure.

 

Women’s Political Participation and Representation in the Washington Region

This month, on August 26th, we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, designated as such by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.  As we approach the day to celebrate this milestone in women’s history, we see there is both much to celebrate, and much work to be done around women and civic and political engagement.

First, the good news: women are making it out the polls in record numbers. Today, women are actively voting, running for office and creatively using their individual and collective power to bring about social and community change. The Census Bureau reports that since 1996, the number of citizens who have reported voting has increased in every presidential election. As in the country as a whole, in our region women are the majority of voters, and both register and vote at a slightly higher number and proportion than men, particularly in the District of Columbia.

 Chart Voting by sex in Nov 2012

Source: The Women’s Foundation compilation of data from the Bureau of the Census, 2012

In the November 2012 election, slightly under three-quarters of DC women voted (71 percent) in comparison with 64 percent of men. This was more than ten percentage points higher than the national voting rates for women (59 percent) and  about ten percentage points higher for men (54 percent) in that election. Voting in Maryland and Virginia had lower rates than DC, closer to the national average; still, women’s civic participation was higher than men’s.

The same pattern holds for voter registration: Seventy-seven percent of DC women were registered to vote in 2012, in comparison with 72 percent of men, which was also higher than the national rates of 67 percent of women and 63 percent of men. In Virginia, 71 percent of women registered to vote compared to 66 percent in Maryland.

Now for the challenging news: While women may make up the majority of voters, there is a significant under-representation of women in political office. Today, women’s representation at the state and national levels falls short of the 51 percent needed to reflect their proportion in the population. For example, women only make up 18.5 percent of the US Congress: they hold just 99 of 535 full-voting Congressional seats, which is up from 90 in 2010.

The District of Columbia has one non-voting Congressional seat, which has been held by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton for twelve terms. In Maryland, women hold two of the 10 Congressional seats: Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Donna Edwards. Thirty percent of the state legislature is made up of women and Maryland ranks 9th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature.

Virginia holds 13 Congressional seats, none of which are currently filled by women.

The proportion of women in Virginia’s  state legislature decreased from 19 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2014. Virginia ranks 40th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature. The governors of both Maryland and Virginia are men, and neither state has ever elected a woman governor.

Equal political representation for women at the national, state and local levels is critical as it increases the likelihood that laws and policies will reflect the needs and interests of women and their families. Last year, we hosted a brown bag lunch with Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House, to discuss this important topic. We encourage you to read highlights from the conversation and tweet your thoughts using #UseThe19th.

In the 43 years since Women’s Equality Day was designated, we have made impressive strides in the number of women who turn up at the polls to make their voices heard; however, women still are not sufficiently represented in political office – a place where, more than just having a voice, they have a platform and the power to make critical change for women, their families and the communities in which they live.  We may be celebrating Women’s Equality Day this month, but equality in political office still remains far too aspirational. What can you do to raise your voice and be heard?