Soapbox

California women are still second class on economic security

Community members from across California descended on the state Capitol in March 2016 to partner with legislative leaders in a rally for a multi-year effort to improve the lives of women, children and families.
Community members from across California descended on the state Capitol in March 2016 to partner with legislative leaders in a rally for a multi-year effort to improve the lives of women, children and families. Sacramento Bee file

In California, it is often easy to feel like we live in a haven for decency and equity where we value inclusiveness and diversity and are setting the pace for progress.

But the latest numbers on women’s well-being in California show that this is no time for complacency, especially on equity, opportunity and justice for all women in our state, including transgender and gender non-conforming.

 
Opinion

The California Budget & Policy Center recently released new data in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of California that shows major disparities across gender and race in employment, earnings and economic security.

For example, in 2016, Latina women working full-time earned just 42 cents for every dollar earned by white men in California. The comparable figures for Native American women, Pacific Islander women and African-American women were between 50 cents and 59 cents.

A disproportionate number of women in California earn low wages compared to men. During 2016, 55 percent of Latina women earned less than $14.71 per hour, which is considered the benchmark for low-wage work; the figure for Latino men was 48 percent. By comparison, 26 percent of white women earned low wages, compared to 20 percent of white men.

Making matters worse is the state’s high cost of living, particularly housing costs. For example, half of all black women live in households where housing costs exceed 30 percent of income, a standard threshold for affordability.

We can and must do a lot better. The California Budget & Policy Center developed a set of recommendations for supporting working mothers and boosting women’s incomes. For example, expanding California’s paid family leave to six months from six weeks would put us on par with other wealthy nations. State lawmakers also should continue increasing funding for subsidized child care and early education.

We can also require large businesses to report pay and job data to the state every year by gender, race and ethnicity, and make these numbers public. California may have some of the strongest equal pay laws in the country, but we cannot continue to lead on this issue if we aren’t keeping track of inequality and putting public pressure on companies to close the gap.

We must also address housing costs by increasing the supply of affordable housing, bolstering tenant protections and creating new paths to homeownership. The recent national proposal to extend federal tax credits to low- and middle-income households can help ease the burden of housing costs on women.

While these solutions are critical for a more equitable and just California, none of them will happen unless we come together and take action. All across our state, community leaders are working to build power and change laws and spending priorities so that all women can thrive. These leaders need our support.

Given the challenges that women continue to face, complacency is not an option. Together, we can make sure California lives up to our expectations as a place where everyone can achieve a life of dignity, equal opportunity and fulfillment.

Surina Khan is CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California and can be contacted at info@womensfoundca.org. Kristin Schumacher is senior policy analyst with the California Budget & Policy Center and can be contacted at kschumacher@calbudgetcenter.org.

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