Many Women in NC Struggle to Achieve Economic Security, According to New Census Data

By Tazra Mitchell, Second VP, NCWU

Over the past four decades, forward-thinking policies have enabled women to gain a stronger foothold in the labor market.  Yet much more progress is needed. Tar Heel women continue to deal with lower rates of economic security and elevated rates of unemployment and poverty compared to men. In order to close the gap, national and state lawmakers need to invest in policies that boost family economic security—such as tax credits for low-income working parents—and create living-wage jobs.

The vast economic inequalities facing women in North Carolina and the nation became clearer last week with the Census Bureau’s release of new 2012 poverty and income figures.

Here’s a quick, by-the-numbers snapshot of the economic inequalities Tar Heel women faced in 2012:

  • 19.5 percent: The poverty rate for women, compared to 16.5 percent for men.
  • 45.6 percent: The poverty rate for female-headed households with children, compared to 21.8 percent of all families with children.
  • 82 cents: The amount women earn on the dollar compared to men.
  • $7,438: The gap in median household income between women and men. The gap jumps to $28,127 among those with a graduate degree.

Putting the Numbers in Context

Even though the Great Recession disproportionately hurt men, the recovery has been far less favorable to women. A majority of job gains have since gone to men even though women have higher levels of education, and the unemployment rate for women is higher now than it was at the start of the downturn. Another key piece of the jobs story is the kind of jobs that are being added to the economy. North Carolina’s economy is in the process of transitioning away from high-wage jobs that can provide a path to middle class prosperity towards low-wage jobs that cannot sustain a family. This is catching women in the crossfire because women comprise more than half of the state’s minimum wage workers.

Not only are men outpacing women in landing jobs, men are also out-earning women at every educational level. Women earn only 82 cents on the dollar compared to men in North Carolina even though the Equal Pay Act was signed back in 1963. In light of the gender wage gap, it is no surprise that women also experience higher poverty rates compared to men. And among women, disparities persist across races (see chart below).

poverty by race women

Women in North Carolina are faring worse compared to women in other states too, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress. Women are in the middle of the pack across a range of economic security measures, averaging a C+. Yet, the state’s ranking drops to a D- once the leadership ranking (24th, or C) and the health ranking (47th, or F) are factored into the overall score.

Now that more than 4 in 10 working women in North Carolina are their families’ primary breadwinner, it is an economic imperative that lawmakers invest in policies that bolster family economic security—especially among women of color. First and foremost, Congress needs to replace harmful sequestration cuts with a balanced approach that includes new revenues and protects the most vulnerable (tell them to take action here!).

It is also vital for state and national lawmakers to enable women to fully participate in the workforce, which requires adequate work supports and labor and workplace standards. This means that paid maternity leave and paid sick leave should be widely available. It also means that women have quality affordable day care available because without it, it’s nearly impossible to hold down a job. Such policies can help create a more inclusive economy, thriving workforce, and a more equitable future for North Carolina’s women.