Indiana: among the worst states for women 

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I don"t usually lend much credence to surveys in glossy women"s magazines, but the October issue of Self magazine caught my attention when it rated Indianapolis as the nation"s second unhealthiest city for women (with South Bend and Gary coming in at sixth and 10th respectively). Based on Census and CDC data on everything from violent crime to obesity to availability of reproductive health services, the Self survey foreshadowed the release of more bad news about women in Indiana a month later, when the Institute for Women"s Policy Research - the nation"s premier center for research on women"s issues - announced that Indiana had become one of the 10 worst states for women to live in. Every two years, the IWPR rates the status of women in the 50 states and D.C. in five areas: political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, reproductive rights and health and well-being. In 2000, Indiana was ranked above average in two of the five areas (political participation and health), but has now slipped to below average ratings in every area, and is sixth worst in the nation when it comes to women"s employment and earnings. Despite decades of progress elsewhere in the nation, Hoosier women still make only 67 percent of what men do - the largest wage/gender gap in the nation - earning on average just $25,000 in 1999. Although 25 percent of Indiana businesses are women-owned (better than the national average), only 13 percent of women have four or more years of college education, and less than 30 percent work in managerial or professional occupations. Indiana"s decline in the IWPR rankings is partly a function of progress made by other states while Indiana stagnated, but is also evidence of the ill-effects of years of regressive state and local policymaking that has consistently put Indiana"s women and children last in crucial areas such as child care, health care, pay equity, educational opportunities and reproductive rights. The state budget passed earlier this year was no exception, including more than $44 million in permanent cuts to social and human services funding, and prompting public universities to raise tuition by as much as 9 percent. Many working people in Indiana - men and women alike - have been hard hit by the state"s job losses and the national recession. Even in these tough times, women are still faring worse than men, and the $1.25 billion "Energize Indiana" plan released by Gov. O"Bannon last week will do little to remedy the persistent economic disparity among the sexes in our state. Social and human services providers were shocked when O"Bannon, surrounded by a cadre of technology sector leaders, announced that he wants to spend one-third of Indiana"s expected $4.2 billion tobacco settlement money (75 percent of the amount available for discretionary spending) on initiatives to boost the manufacturing, life sciences, IT and high-tech distribution sectors of the economy. Although $200 million is earmarked for K-12 education, and $110 million for extending workers" unemployment benefits, much of the spending goes to public/private research and development partnerships that will greatly benefit businesses. O"Bannon insists the plan will result in substantial job creation, and Indiana certainly needs an infusion of sustainable, living wage jobs. What O"Bannon neglected to mention is that if current employment trends continue, these high-skill, high-pay jobs will go primarily to male workers. It"s true that tech-related sectors will experience the highest job growth in the next few years. But according to the Women"s Bureau of the Department of Labor, relatively few women work in these fields. For example, in 2001, only one in 10 engineers, three in 10 computer systems analysts and one in four computer programmers were women. The inequity of tech-sector unemployment is unlikely to change unless O"Bannon and his advisors apply the same enthusiasm they show for business-friendly policies to creating policies friendly to women and families as well. "We cannot rest until every Hoosier recognizes that the more you learn, the more you earn - and everyone has the opportunity to act on it," O"Bannon vowed. However, O"Bannon"s cuts to TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) funding and child care subsidies available through the Family and Social Services Administration will likely make it more difficult than ever for lower-income women to pursue educational opportunities that would allow them access to the quality tech sector jobs he proposes to create. Child care remains one of the major barriers to women"s educational attainment, and state child care budget cuts of nearly $10 million mean that fewer Hoosier children will receive licensed, affordable care in the coming years. The FSSA scaled back its services this fall, so that now only families at less than 127 percent of the poverty level ($18,100 for a family of four) are eligible for subsidized child care; even with those restrictions, there are still nearly 8,000 eligible children on the waiting list for the program. O"Bannon wants to offer $135 million in scholarships for college students studying in one of his four targeted sectors, but if women interested in these fields can"t find or afford someone to take care of their children while they"re in class, what good will it do them? Given the diminishing social services support network for single mothers in Indiana, it"s not surprising that 30 percent of female-headed households with children live in poverty. As it stands now, O"Bannon"s plan might well energize Indiana"s male tech sector workers, but may leave women behind, deepening the digital divide between the sexes, and continuing to make Indiana among the worst states for women to live, work and raise healthy families. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong about that, but I"m not certain I want to wait around to find out. To view the IWPR report, go to:

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