The Best Cities for Women for Work and Family

By IWPR, Special for  USDR.

Two new reports in the Status of Women in the States: 2015 series, published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), find that most states fall far short on work and family policies and women’s political leadership. No state received higher than a B on the Work & Family Composite Index, which measures access to paid leave (which includes paid family leave, paid medical leave, and paid sick days), support for dependent and elder care, cost and quality of child care, and the gender gap in labor force participation for parents of young children. No state received higher than a B+ on the Political Participation Composite Index, which measures women’s voter registration and turnout, representation in elected office, and state-based institutional  resources.

Although women are more likely to vote than men in almost every state—women’s voter turnout was higher than men’s in all but two states in 2012— most states scored poorly on the Women in Elected Office Index, indicating a wide gap between women’s political participation and political leadership. On Work & Family, 40 states scored a zero on the Paid Leave Index, leaving workers in these states without statutory rights to paid family leave, paid medical leave, or paid sick days. New York, California, and the District of Columbia have the highest scores on the overall Work & Family Index, in part due to their high rankings on paid leave. None of the highest ranking states, however, consistently ranks in the top ten for each of the four component indicators, reflecting the patchwork of work-family supports across the  country.

“Paid leave and child care are consistently listed as top issues for female voters,” said IWPR President and MacArthur Fellow Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “With women voting at higher rates than men, candidates should pay attention to how we can better support women and men who are supporting their families, both through paid work and unpaid  caregiving.”

Half of all families with children (49.8 percent) in the United States now have a breadwinner mother, who is either the sole provider or, in married couples, contributes at least 40 percent of family earnings. During the past four decades, the labor force participation rate for mothers of children under age six has more than doubled, from just under a third (32.1 percent) in the labor force in 1970, to just over two thirds (67.1 percent) in 2013. Fathers’ labor force participation, however, has barely budged (falling from 97.9 percent in 1970 to 94.4 percent in 2013), and mothers still do the majority of unpaid family  work.

Mothers’ labor force participation rate varies by race/ethnicity and geography. Seventy-nine percent of black mothers of children under the age of six are in the workforce—more than ten percentage points higher than the proportion for mothers of young children of all races/ethnicities. The District of Columbia has the highest share (64 percent) of breadwinner mothers among all families with children and Utah has the lowest share (35  percent).

Families with children who are living below the poverty line spent 30 percent of their income on child care in 2011, more than three times the proportion that families living above the poverty line spent. No state provides adequate child care supports to a majority of children, when looking at the costs of full-time center care for an infant as a proportion of women’s median annual earnings in the state; the share of four-year-olds who are in publicly funded Pre-K, Head Start, and Special Education; and policies that ensure the quality of Pre-K  education.

Women are nine times more likely than men to work part-time for family care reasons. Part-time work means lower earnings (and lower Social Security contributions and benefits) than full-time work; part-time workers are also much less likely than full-time workers to have access to paid leave of any  kind.

Although the number of women in the U.S. Congress has reached an all-time high, women will not hold an equal share of seats until 2117, if trends continue at the current rate. Since 2004, the number of women the U.S. House of Representatives has increased from 60 to 84 and the number of women in the U.S. Senate has increased from 14 to 20. Yet, women are significantly underrepresented relative to their share of the population. There are only 5 states—Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming—where women constitute at least half of the state’s representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives, while 18 states have no female representatives. Three states have never sent a woman to either the U.S. House or the Senate: Delaware,Mississippi, and  Vermont.

Progress in women’s political leadership at the state level has also been mixed: the share of women in state legislatures increased from 22.5 percent in 2004 to 24.2 percent in 2015, but the number of women in statewide elected executive office declined from 81 (of 315) in 2004 to 78 (of 317) in 2015. Twenty-six other states saw an increase in the number of women in elected office, while 23 states saw a decline since 2004. There were no states in which women held half of the seats in either the state senate or the state house or assembly. New Hampshire received the highest grade (B+) on the overall Political Participation Composite Index, a vast improvement since the index was last calculated in 2004, when it received a D. These gains were due mostly to the substantial gains on the Women in Elected Office Index, jumping from 42nd in 2004 to first on the 2015 index, because New Hampshire has a woman governor and three of its four federal office holders are  women.

Women of color—who constitute approximately 18 percent of the population aged 18 and older—hold about 6.2 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress, 5.3 percent of seats in state legislatures, and 2.8 percent of statewide elective executive positions. In 2012, black and white women had the highest voting rates among the total female voting age population (66.1 percent and 64.5 percent, respectively), which were twice as high as the voting rates for Hispanic women and Asian women (33.9 percent and 32.0 percent,  respectively).

The findings from Work & Family and Political Participation will be discussed at an event May 20, 2015, in Washington, DC, “Achieving Gender Equality in our Lifetimes: A Bold Vision for Advancing the Status of Women.” View the event’s webcast online here beginning at 1:30  pm.

Work & Family and Political Participation are the latest installments in a series of releases from the Status of Women in the States: 2015 report, which uses a variety of data sources to measure and track trends in women’s status over time. The report and additional data on women of color, Millennial women, older women, and LBGT women are available on the website (www.statusofwomendata.org). The Status of Women in the States, a project of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research since 1996, also covers: Employment & Earnings, Poverty & Opportunity, Health & Well-Being, Reproductive Rights, and Violence & Safety. The project is supported by the Ford Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, the Women’s Funding Network, NOW, and OWL, as well as other foundations and  organizations.

SOURCE Institute for Women’s Policy  Research

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.