Study unveils economic issues for women in Texas Fact boxes: submitted

Betty Dillard If you are a woman in Texas, you are more likely than a man to live in poverty. Thirty percent of all Texas households are female-headed, yet 53 percent of households live in poverty, according to a new report by the Texas Women’s Foundation titled “Economic Issues for Women in Texas 2014.” The study was released May 28 by the Texas Women’s Foundation, the research and advocacy arm of the Dallas Women’s Foundation. It examines the economic status of women across the state and provides several recommendations to help women achieve and sustain economic security. The foundation released findings from a Fort Worth metro area report during a public forum sponsored by the Women’s Policy Forum of Tarrant County on June 16 at the City Club of Fort Worth. The Fort Worth report, one of nine studies across Texas, breaks down economic challenges and issues faced by the more than 1.1 million women and girls living in the area comprising Hood, Johnson, Parker, Somervell, Tarrant and Wise counties. The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), a nonpartisan research organization based in Austin, conducted the study for the foundation. Other metro areas studied were Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, San Antonio and Tyler. Strengthening the economic stability and security of women and girls is critical to the success and future of not only the Fort Worth metro area but the entire state, said Roslyn Dawson Thompson, president and CEO of Dallas Women’s Foundation and Texas Women’s Foundation. Even women who are living above the poverty line in Texas struggle to achieve economic security as they face low-paying jobs, the high cost of child care, the lack of insurance benefits or the high costs of education and housing, she noted. “Our goal is that this study will create a common understanding of the issues Texas women face, help us gain a common language about the challenges and opportunities ahead, and lead us – community leaders, elected and appointed officials, nonprofit organizations, donors and partners – to find common solutions to improve economic security for Texas women,” Dawson Thompson said. Rachel Malone, chairman of the Women’s Policy Forum of Tarrant County, told the audience of about 300 that many women struggle economically because they don’t understand how to manage their financial lives, are in poor health or are too busy taking care of their children and/or aging parents. “As a Texan I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ It refers to pulling yourself out of a tough situation by yourself. But sometimes that’s just not possible. Sometimes you need a helping hand. You may need more than your bootstraps,” Malone said. “That’s what we’re here to do, to work in the same direction and make a difference.” Building blocks According to the Texas Women’s Foundation, the percentage of families with breadwinning or co-breadwinning mothers has increased since 1970 from 34 percent to 58 percent of all Texas families with children. When women’s earnings can’t cover basic expenses, they must make tough choices about what kind of care their child will receive, what food to put on the table and where they will live. Making those choices is exacerbated by the fact that women continue to earn less than men, the foundation says. Full-time working women in the Fort Worth metro area have median earnings of $38,111 a year, the third-highest earnings behind Dallas ($40,714) and Houston ($38,474). However, women in the Fort Worth area earn almost $11,000 less annually than men, or 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, compared with women in Dallas, who earn 85 cents for every dollar a man earns. Seventy-four percent of jobs in the Fort Worth area don’t pay enough for single mothers to provide the necessities for their children, the report finds. Although the female poverty rate in the Fort Worth area is lower than in Texas, more than 164,000 women and girls still live in poverty. For a single parent with two children, poverty is defined as living on less than $18,769 in income per year. “Women still earn a lot less than men in the Fort Worth area, almost $11,000 less. You could be using that difference for child care, making a down payment on a home or buying health insurance,” said Jennifer Lee, a research associate at CPPP who wrote the study. The Fort Worth area has one of the largest male-female wage gaps in the nine metro areas studied in the report, according to Lee. Some of the reasons why the wage gap exists, she explained, are that women are more likely to work in low-paying jobs without benefits, their work experience is shorter than men’s because they have taken a break to care for children, and their employment is concentrated in fewer occupational sectors. In an effort to narrow the wage gap between men and women, “Economic Issues for Women in Texas 2014” looks into four building blocks that help women achieve and sustain economic security: education, access to child care, health insurance and housing. “These are important community building blocks to help support women. These are things women can’t get by themselves,” Lee said. Women in the Fort Worth metro area earn more with each step in their education, Lee said. For full-time workers, women with a high school diploma earn 54 percent more than women with less than a high school diploma. Women with an associate’s degree or some college earn 52 percent more than women with only a high school diploma. However, there are still many barriers for students, female and male. “Education does pay. It is still the best way toward financial security,” Lee said. Flora Brewer, Tarrant event sponsor and president of Paulos Properties, urged the audience to “rally around” these common building blocks to help women be more financially secure now and for the future. “We know when women do well financially their financial strength is passed straight on to their families. Our challenge is to identify those strategies that will provide a level playing field for all women and ensure that Texas is a land of opportunity for all Texas families,” Brewer said.