Thursday, April 5, 2012

Take Action Advocacy Day: A look at the state of working women in Colorado

The Colorado Center on Law & Policy today will co-host the Take Action Advocacy Day for women at the State Capitol in Denver. Along with the Women and Family Action Network, the center hopes to bring together as many as 200 women and girls to discuss policy changes that can improve their lives.

This event also provides a chance to draw on our recent report, State of Working Colorado 2012, to highlight issues directly affecting women’s economic security, whether it’s the relationship between income and educational attainment or the persistence of the pay gap between genders. This report is limited to evaluating statistics on the formal labor market. Some of the disparities in these statistics reflect that many women still shoulder the primary responsibility for raising children and the related economic effects.

Public policy responses to any set of issues benefit from the political engagement of those whom they affect. Take Action Advocacy Day aims to activate women’s voices on the issues they care about and thereby effect the change they want.         

Labor force participation by gender
The labor force participation rate measures the share of the working-age population that has work or is looking for a job. The rate is calculated by dividing the number of people with jobs or looking for jobs by the total working-age population, people age 16 and older. Women have made large gains by entering the historically male-dominated labor force. Even in 2011, however, women participated in the labor force at a rate about 12 percentage points lower than men. (Figure 1)

In 1980, the median wage for a woman in Colorado was almost half that for a man. Since then, women have made substantial progress in raising their earnings relative to men, increasing their real median wage as much as 30 percent at their peak in 2003. (Figure 2) At the same time, men’s wages in Colorado have declined slightly.
But the gap in pay between genders has not closed. In 2011, the real median wage for a woman was only 78 percent of that for a man in Colorado. (Figure 2) And despite gains in recent years, the gap is widening again.

Occupation income by gender
The degree of income inequality between the genders varies by occupation. But the overall picture is clear – even within the same industries, women earn less than men in Colorado. On average, women in Colorado earn 78 percent of the salary for men in the same industry. (Figure 3) Women working in legal and sales occupations face the largest income inequality, earning 50 and 65 percent of their male peers, respectively. Of Colorado’s industries, women are closest to their male colleagues’ income in community and social services occupations. (Figure 3)

Women and education
Education consistently proves to be a dominant variable in determining economic security. The trend of more education leading to higher earnings is consistent across genders. Though both men and women benefit from more education, increased education does not close the disparity in median earnings . (Figure 4) In 2010, the median earnings for men without a high school diploma were almost $7,000 more than for women; moreover, the median earnings for men with a bachelor’s degree were over $17,000 more than for women. Though the numbers highlight the importance of education for economic security, women continue to earn a similar percentage of men’s earnings even as they become more educated.

Poverty and household type
Not all family types are equally susceptible to poverty. Of those families living in poverty in Colorado, half are single-female households, while about 12 percent are single-male households. (Figure 5) Of those single-female households, 90 percent are women supporting children.

Single mothers hit hardest by poverty
Women are generally harder hit by poverty in Colorado than men, especially single-mother families. Disturbingly, 50 percent of all single mothers with children under age 5 live below the poverty line. (Figure 6) This statistic highlights the serious need for public policy to facilitate adequate family support systems like child care.

Education, Gender, and Poverty
Though more education helps reduce one’s likelihood of living in poverty, gender disparities in pay contribute to a persistent gap in the likelihood of men and women living in poverty. Even with higher levels of education, a higher percentage of women live in poverty than do men. (Figure 7)

 Families and food assistance
Among Colorado households, three distinctions emerge with respect to food stamps. First, single-parent homes have higher food stamp recipiency rates than married-couple homes. Second, among single-parent homes, single-mother households have higher rates than single-father homes. And across the board, households with children have dramatically higher rates of food stamp recipiency than childless households. (Figure 8) In 2010, single-mother families in Colorado relied on food stamps at roughly four times that rate of the state average. (Figure 8)

Gender inequality remains
Despite great strides toward gender equality in Colorado’s economy, the data show there’s still progress to be made.Women have lower earnings, even in the same occupations and with the same education levels. They experience higher rates of poverty across education levels, especially when raising children, and they rely on food stamps at a higher rate than men.

Take Action Advocacy Day is an opportunity for women to learn how to influence the policies that affect their lives. The data show the challenges women continue to face in Colorado’s economy. But these challenges have public policy solutions that will not only improve the lives of women but benefit all of Colorado’s communities.

For more data on Colorado workers, see the State of Working Colorado 2012.

Contact: Ben Felson
CC/Rice Fellow
303-573-5669, ext. 316

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