Pushing North Carolina Women Closer to Poverty

Women and Poverty

Pay inequity and a lack of work supports are some of the roadblocks that prevent women in North Carolina from achieving economic security.

The new Status of Women in North Carolina report, produced by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the North Carolina Council for Women, looks at numerous factors affecting women’s ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Women make up almost half the workforce in North Carolina. We’re better educated today than we were a couple of decades ago – 27% of women in North Carolina had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2000, compared to only 16% in 1990. During that same period, the share of women who did not complete high school dropped by more than half – from 30% to 13%.

But we are still struggling to reach pay equity. Women in North Carolina who work full-time, year-round have median earnings of $33,000, compared to $40,000 for men. And women earn less than men across every educational level.

“When you look in the Research Triangle, a woman with a bachelor’s degree makes 68 cents to the dollar of a man with a bachelor’s degree, and that is in the area that has the highest pay of anywhere in North Carolina,” said Beth Briggs, executive director of the NC Council for Women. “Discrimination is really significant, and it’s disturbing.”

Numerous factors, including gender discrimination, contribute to the gender wage gap. Occupations that are traditionally dominated by women pay less than those traditionally dominated by men. This includes many jobs in the public sector – like teachers, social workers, and public health professionals. In fact, public sector jobs account for more than one-fifth of women’s employment.  As a result, the severe state budget cuts of recent years have disproportionately hurt women.

Another factor that undermines women’s economic security is the lack of work supports. Women take on the role of caregiver more often than men do, so the fact that more than four in ten employed women don’t get paid sick days means women lose pay when they are sick or they have to care for a sick child or relative.

These factors – along with the lack of affordable, quality child care  – push some women into poverty (or keep them there). In 2010, 38% of women in North Carolina were poor or near poor. If that percentage surprises you, chances are you live in one of North Carolina’s metro areas. Poverty rates are much higher in rural areas of the state, where education levels are lower and good-paying jobs are much harder to come by.

Families headed by single mothers are at especially high risk for poverty, and the state programs that could help them out of poverty are so dramatically underfunded that they reach only a fraction of those families that are eligible.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at the overall well-being of women and girls in North Carolina and what women can do to create needed change.

This is the second post in a series reflecting on the findings of the Status of North Carolina Women report.




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