Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Economic Status of Arizona Women
by Jodi Beckley Liggett

Women have made tremendous economic gains over the last several decades. While women fare much better in some states than others, nowhere do women fare as well economically as men.

So go the findings of the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) in their report, "The Best and Worst State Economies for Women." IWPR is a think tank that tracks women's well being across the states. Arizonans will be pleasantly surprised to learn that Arizona does not vie for dead last on these particular rankings. Yet, all the states have far to go in achieving economic equality for women, and Arizona is no exception.

The Arizona Foundation for Women commissioned the Arizona portion of the "Best and Worst States" report which presents rankings on measures related to women's health, education, social justice, and political participation.

The rankings are contained in the Foundation's report, "Arizona Women 2007: A Status Update." The reports indicate that Arizona is doing well on many measures. However, some startling contrasts show just how variable Arizona women's well-being is.

Arizona ranks in the top quarter for measures related to maternal and child health, and female disease, yet has a poor ranking for health insurance coverage. Similarly, we are near the top for women's employment and earnings and business ownership, yet in the bottom half of the nation for number of women above the poverty line. The final weird juxtaposition: Arizona is one of the worst states for women's voter registration and turnout, yet we are near the top for the number of women legislators, and for women in statewide elected office.

A look inside the data reveals even more contrasts. Though our overall ranking for maternal and child health is good, the report indicates that Hispanic and Native American women receive far less prenatal care (about 67 percent) than white women (87 percent).

On another highly ranked measure, female disease mortality, a closer look shows that the incidence of AIDS among African American women in Arizona is over 10 times higher than that of white women (30.3 percent, versus 3.2 percent).

Arizona women's overall employment and earnings are good, compared to other states. However, Hispanic women in Arizona earn 51.5 percent of what white men earn, compared to 77.4 percent for white women. Only 65 percent of Native American women are above the poverty line compared to 90.7 percent of white women. Arizona is second in the nation for the number of women enrolled in postsecondary education, but only 12.7 percent of Hispanic women have a college degree, compared to 28.6 percent of white women.

The K-12 level shows some sobering, but not surprising, news across the board. Arizona has one of the worst dropout rates in the country, and our schools are struggling with one of the highest numbers of English-language learners.

What does it all mean? Arizona has some women who are doing really well, which boosts our ranking in areas like business ownership and earnings. However, as our closer look indicated, things are not going well for all of us -- women of color and poor women have less access to higher education, health care, child care and many other supports that are the keys to self-sufficiency. So while some standouts are pulling our average up, we shouldn't be content in the middle of the pack. A "C" may be a passing grade, but we've got to aim higher than "not the worst."

Helping Arizona women to aim higher should be our mission. We must bring business, governmental and social sector leaders together to affect social change and catalyze women to become informed about the issues, build coalitions and create action for change.

Arizona is doing reasonably well for many women, on many measures. But we must aim higher. By working from facts, and measuring progress over time, we hope to make Arizona the best place possible for women to live and raise their families.


Liggett is director of programs and policy research at the Arizona Foundation for Women.