The Kansas City region has a gender wage gap problem.
By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star
And thats not just a problem for working women who earn less than men. Its a problem for all women, for men, for children and for the metropolitan area as a whole.
Households that arent economically self-sufficient create a cycle of poverty, drain social service resources, hinder the pursuit of higher education and dont contribute to public coffers through taxes.
We must have some amount of anger about this, said Karen Dace, a deputy chancellor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. We need the kind of anger that says, I wont stop until change comes.
Dace said she wasnt trying to sound militant, but an emotional response was required after she read reports released last week by the Womens Foundation of Greater Kansas City. The reports published troubling economic data about the 15-county metropolitan statistical area:
• Two-thirds of the poverty-level households are headed by women.
• One-fourth of the adult female population has no education beyond high school.
• Average median earnings for men at all education levels are nearly 1.4 times those for women and the gap is greatest at the highest education levels.
• Full-time working women as a whole earn 73 cents for every dollar a man earns, a worse rate than the national 77 cents.
And thats for all occupations except construction and maintenance, said Margo Quiriconi, director of education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, who was a principal investigator on the Womens Foundation study.
The other big aha for me in the report was the growth of women in poverty over the last 10 years, Quiriconi said. The growth was greater than for men, even though we called it a mancession. The last few years took a bigger economic toll on women.
The foundations new research, packaged in reports named Her Reality and Her Voice, were based on 2010 census data showing that households most vulnerable to poverty are headed by women with children in the home.
The report said: Because female-headed households typically have only one primary wage earner, these households often face challenges meeting their daily living needs, such as housing, transportation, health care and child care.
Also, the women who head these households are least able to take advantage of education and training opportunities in the community and consequently face obstacles in getting and retaining jobs that could put them and their families on a path to economic security.
Dawn Oliver, executive director of the Womens Foundation, said this was the third major status-of-women research funded by the organization since its founding 20 years ago.
The foundation raises money and grants funds to agencies and projects that promote equity and opportunity for women and girls; it has raised $6.5 million over the years and granted $2.6 million. The new reports were financed by the Beth K. Smith Fund for Research at the foundation.
We were surprised at the depth of the poverty data, Oliver said. But were also looking at it as an opportunity to address the educational attainment problem.
She said the foundation will follow up in January with an action agenda for employers and the community to do something about it.
Kira Davidson, a career coach at the Community Services League, is in the trenches in the battle to improve the economic lot of low-wage or low-skill women.
We see a great need for them to stay on the technology curve, Davidson said. Were having to teach all the Internet basics so that they can even apply for jobs. And its not just for people who dont have a work history. Were seeing people who have been working a number of years but arent capable of making a work transition.
Thats true for men and women, Davidson said. Many lack the education and work models to succeed in todays workplace. But, she said, the caregiver role for women makes getting and keeping a job harder for many of them, especially those without a good support system for child care and transportation.
Data indicate that one in five area children lives with a single, working mother. Data also show that three-fourths of area families with children have two working parents. That means child care help is vital.
According to the Metropolitan Council on Early Learning, the average weekly cost of infant care at a center in the Kansas City area was $193 for infant care, $168 for toddlers and $110 for school-age children.
Compare those costs with the median earnings of a female high school graduate in the Kansas City region $21,534 a year and that means about half of a weekly paycheck goes to put one baby in a licensed center.
Not much would be left for food, housing and everything else, Quiriconi said.
She noted that Missouri ranked 48th in the nation for low-income people to be eligible for child care subsidies. Kansas ranked 30th.
Were trying to point out that women and girls in our region need help to access the services that are available, said Jody Brook, a researcher at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, who was the other lead investigator on the foundation report.
There may be a slot available for someone at an educational institution, but it takes child care, transportation, scholarships. Beyond that, just the forms you have to fill out to get financial aid are incredibly daunting.
A financial aid form may ask, for example, that the applicant list the value of the home she is living in. She may not know. She may not have parents to help. She may give up, Brook said, because even though help is available technically, practically it isnt.
The foundation researchers, who also held focus groups with social service agency leaders and with recipients of social services, said they encountered another financial problem facing women who tried to pursue career education without good advice.
Some got into for-profit trade schools, amassed a lot of debt and ended up in jobs with a debt-to-earnings ratio that doesnt make sense, Brook said. Its not a sustainable future to incur $25,000, $30,000 in debt to become a medical records technician or a child care worker.
The Womens Foundation study parallels other recent reports that found a gender wage gap stretching far beyond poverty-level, low-educated women. AAUW, formerly the American Association of University Women, last month issued a report that zeroed in on earnings of new college graduates.
Even as more education is a path to greater earnings, the AAUW study found that women working full time earned less than their male counterparts just one year after college graduation.
Taking a closer look at the data, we find that womens choices college major, occupation, hours at work do account for part of the pay gap. But about one-third of the gap remains unexplained, suggesting that bias and discrimination are still problems in the workplace, the report said.
Its research found that, on average, women one year out of college were earning 82 percent of their male peers, even when the statistics were controlled for hours, occupation, college major, employment sector and other factors.
In other words, AAUW said, about one third of the gap cannot be explained by any of the factors commonly understood to affect earnings.
An earnings study published last year by researchers at Georgetown University emphasized the higher earnings potential derived from each level of education.
But the Georgetown report also noted: Women earn less than men, even when they work the same number of hours a gap that persists across all levels of educational attainment. In fact, women with a bachelors degree earn about as much as men with some college education but no degree. On average, to earn as much as men with a bachelors degree, women must obtain a doctoral degree.
Gap takes its toll
Over a lifetime of earnings, a gender pay gap can make a big difference in standard of living at retirement.
Lilly Ledbetter, whose name is affixed to a federal fair-pay act, repeatedly emphasizes in speaking engagements that the problem wasnt just that she was paid 40 percent less than her male peers when she was working. Its that the wage difference over the years means that she is living on less in retirement.
The Womens Foundation report included a section on the financial status of older women. Between 2005 and 2010, the regions population of women over age 65 grew 18.6 percent.
Women in that age group are more likely than their male peers to be living in poverty.
Dee Rau, 70, counts herself in that category. The Kansas City woman is working part time in a library and hopes to retire in December.
Rau said she depleted her retirement savings to get through a period of unemployment and has been unable to replenish it. Perhaps, she said, she would be in better financial shape if she had been more financially literate in her 50s.
I just didnt have anybody who knew about planning ahead, about putting money aside, Rau said.
A pipeline issue
Pay gap researchers acknowledge that they often hear pushback from people who cite instances in their workplaces where women earn more than men.
But, they point out, those are anecdotal. For example, as engineering companies scramble to recruit female graduates still far outnumbered by male engineering graduates the bidding war for a scarce commodity (women engineers) pushes up pay offers for women in that field.
Critics of pay gap findings also note that women drop out of the workplace more often than men. Time out to have and raise children takes time out of earning years when promotions or tenure would bring higher pay.
Pay gap skeptics also note that women self-select into pink collar careers such as child care and nonprofit agency work that tend to be lower-paying than other careers.
This is a pipeline issue, Quiriconi said. We have to start earlier in the schools to get more girls involved in education leading to engineering, science, medicine and other careers.
In fact, the Central Exchange, a professional womens networking organization in Kansas City, this month launched an initiative called STEMM. The project is designed to encourage science, technology, engineering, math and medicine careers for women.
By participating in those higher-paying industries, women increase their lifetime earning power.
Still, the body of contemporary research agrees: Even when peer jobs and peer experience are compared, women earn less than men in nearly every job category.
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Source: Womens Foundation of Greater Kansas City
To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to email@example.com.