I have worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 15 years. About half of that time, my work has been focused on women and girls — helping them complete their education, moving them toward economic security and bringing to light information on the issues and current status of women in Arkansas through research and reports.
At least once a month, I am asked if what I am doing is relevant: Do we really need to look at wage equity? Isn’t the playing field level now? Don’t women have equal access to anything and everything? Everyone has the ability to attend school — why do we need special programs just for women?
Let me ask you — what do you think? And, what would you need to know to help you respond to these questions? What do you know? I want to share what I know using information gleaned from reports released by the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas:
- I know that women make up 51 percent of the state’s population.
- I know that 20 percent of Arkansas women live in poverty; for African American women, it’s 30 percent and for Hispanic women, 31 percent.
- I know that the poverty rate for female-headed families with children is 48 percent. For women-headed households with children under 5, the poverty rate is 58 percent, and 61 percent of our state’s poor children live in female-headed households.
- I know that Arkansas ranks above the national average, with 28 percent of its families headed by single women. Reasons include Arkansas has the fifth highest divorce rate for women, and Arkansas is tied for seventh in the U.S. of states in the percentage of births to unmarried women.
- I know that Arkansas ranks No. 1 in the number of births to teens ages 18-19.
- I know that 50 percent of teens in Arkansas are sexually active and teens in Arkansas use protection at the third-lowest rate nationally. Arkansas is one of 14 states that do not require schools to provide sex or STI/HIV education.
- I know that approximately 20 percent of infants born to Arkansas teens were not the teens’ first child.
- I know that only 38 percent of girls who get pregnant before age 18 will complete high school and less than 2 percent of teen mothers will graduate from college by age 30.
- I know that nearly one-third of daughters of teen mothers will experience teen pregnancy.
- I know that a mother’s education level is linked to children’s health outcomes and also to children’s economic well-being and educational success.
- I know that, in 2012, 53 percent of children of mothers who were high school drop-outs were living in poverty in comparison to 4 percent of mothers with a college degree.
- I know that 40 percent of children whose mothers did not complete high school did not graduate high school on time.
- I know that low levels of educational attainment negatively impact women’s opportunities for quality employment.
- I know that one in five young women in Arkansas do not complete their high school education.
- I know that 56 percent of incoming freshman at Arkansas colleges are female; however, only 19 percent of Arkansas women have earned a BA degree.
- I know that, over the next decade, more than 60 percent of all new jobs will require a college education.
- I know that median wages are positively correlated with the level of education for men and women, and that at every degree level, women earn significantly less than men. What this means is that women must overachieve educationally to close the overall earnings gap with men.
- I know that an aptitude for science, technology, engineering and math fields is vitally important for economic success in the 21st century. Among Arkansas students with STEM interest, there is a 15-point readiness gap favoring men in mathematics (58 percent of men prepared vs. 43 percent of women) and a 17-point readiness gap favoring men in science (54 percent vs. 37 percent).
- I know that women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM positions.
- I know that working women in Arkansas receive, on average, 82 cents compared to a man’s $1 for comparable work.
- I know that we see this wage gap across all the professions — even those considered traditionally female.
- I know that only 20 percent of Arkansas women earn more than $50,000 per year, which brings us back to where we began.
- I know that the poverty rate for women in Arkansas is 20 percent, 30 percent for African-American women, 31 percent for Hispanic women.
I know that a focus on the educational and economic lives of women and girls IS relevant and justified because improvements in their lives have the potential for exponential returns to the state of Arkansas in the form of children’s educational and economic success as adults.
By supporting women we strengthen Arkansas.