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Michele Spencer

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March 1, 2014
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Education and training help women succeed, which boosts our economy

Regarding “Recognizing the impact of change and doing something about it”:

I was stunned recently to hear Maria Shriver admonish young women to expect to be providers and to prepare accordingly. Maria Shriver is a mother of four and an award-winning, well-known and respected American journalist, author of six bestselling books and the former first lady of California. Her recent annual Shriver Report on women entitled, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink,” co-sponsored with The Center for American Progress, provides a bleak but informative 400-page basis for her admonishment.

“These are not women trying to ‘have it all.’ These are women who are already doing it all — working hard, providing, parenting and caregiving. They’re doing it all, yet they and their families can’t prosper, and that’s weighing the U.S. economy down.”

When I was growing up, it was generally expected that when a girl left home, she would marry, have children and would continue to be primarily supported by a male for her entire life. She was not expected to be a provider. Divorce or unwed pregnancies were very rare events. We all know the world has changed since then, often for the better.

We often experienced this change firsthand without recognizing the extent of its impact. With the availability of the birth control pill and a less expensive cost of living and education, I had the opportunity to become well educated and to have a law career before I had the responsibility of children that, as it turned out, I needed to support. Those conditions no longer exist.

Currently, one in three American women (42 million of them) and their children (numbering 28 million), live in or on the brink of poverty.

Why is that happening? According to this report, these women are impoverished due to three critical factors:

First: Even though women represent a majority of college graduates, they are more likely to work in “pink collar” service or caregiving situations for which they are poorly paid and lack benefits. Nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, often without paid sick days that they need.

Second: Although women get most of the high school degrees, higher education is more difficult for them to obtain. The cost of living, as well as education, has increased dramatically. Two-thirds of American women are now breadwinners. Regardless, women continue to be paid less than men. An average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That figure is lower for black and Latina women, with African American women earning only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man. Women’s unequal pay has much more significant consequences over time than I understood. From 1970 to 2013: the price of the average home has gone up $167,000; the price of the average car has gone up $27,100; gas has increased $3.55 per gallon; a pair of jeans costs $37 more; a ticket to a movie has gone up $6.45; and 12 cans of dog food have increased in cost by $27. Yet, during that same time frame, women’s pay has only increased 13 cents per hour! It is no wonder so many women are falling into poverty.

Third: The American family has permanently changed. Single-parent families are more common. Seventy-five percent of unmarried mothers are under 30 and only 7 percent have finished college. More than half of the babies now born to women under 30 are born to unmarried women, most of whom are white.

Single motherhood and the lack of a college degree are two of the strongest indicators of poverty.

While insisting on equal pay for equal work and accepting the reality of women’s dual roles as breadwinners and caregivers in this country, we also need to promote Ms. Shriver’s idea of women being architects of their own lives, rather than victims.

We need to mentor girls to delay pregnancy and finish college by making better choices about relationships, finances and school work and understanding their risks if they do otherwise.

We need to support them so they can complete an education and training that will yield a higher income when they become providers.

This isn’t just for their individual benefit but for the inevitable benefit to our economy that their increased spending power and lessened need for social services will provide.

Michele Spencer lives in Grass Valley.


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The Union Updated Mar 8, 2014 12:22AM Published Mar 4, 2014 03:17PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.