Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

More rough economic seas ahead for Washington’s women unless legislators act

Policy Brief: Rough Seas for Washington Women

With the official end of the Great Recession two and a half years behind us, few people have seen any economic gains – and many are worse off than at the height of the recession, including women and children.

There’s no doubt men have experienced higher unemployment rates than women throughout the recession and recovery. However, antiquated workplace policies have put women at greater economic disadvantages than their male counterparts. As a result, economic downturns tend to exacerbate the vulnerabilities experienced by women and their families.

Despite historic movements to increase women’s participation in the workforce, significant disparities in pay and access to workplace benefits remain. Today, women in the U.S. earn $3.00 less per hour than do men at the median. In Washington, the wage gap is even wider, with women earning $5.00 less per hour.[1]

Washington’s working women experience such pay disparities at all ages, races and education levels.[2] And, because women are more likely to receive low wages and work part-time, they also have reduced access to essential benefits, including retirement plans and paid leave. The results of such inequities have become alarming clear as the country struggles to regain economic stability.

In a national study, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women are currently reporting greater difficulty affording food, utilities, transportation, and housing expenses. Women are also more likely to have doubled up – moved in with family or friends to share living expenses – and are less likely to have received a raise or gotten a better job.

Furthermore, poverty rates have continued to climb throughout the recovery. Now, 18% of American families with children under 18 and 30% of single mothers live below the poverty level. Washington is no exception, with 48% of single moms with children under five living in poverty. In Yakima County, 80% of single-mom families meet the low-income requirements for free or reduced priced lunch.[3]

Women will continue to struggle to achieve economic security until employers and policymakers take adequate steps to reduce gender gaps in earnings, access to benefits and likelihood of experiencing poverty throughout life.

Read more in EOI’s latest policy brief: “Rough Seas for Washington’s Women” – the full report will be released next week.

[1] Economic Policy Institute analysis of Current Population Survey data.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey and 4th quarter 2009-3rd quarter 2010 Quarterly Workforce Indicators.

[3] U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey, Table B17022 for Yakima County. Eligibility for reduced price lunch is income less than 185% of the federal poverty level.

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