BY SABINE SCHOENBACH This time of year, there is no dearth of “top ten lists” – from the Associate Press’ Top Ten Photos of 2013 to the Huffington Post’s Top Ten Sexist Media Moments, we’ve come to expect reflections in the form of rankings as we welcome the New Year.
Not as short and pithy, but certainly worthy of reflection, are the state rankings in the Center for American Progress’ State of Women in America report – an examination of how women are faring across the states in categories of economic security, leadership and health.
Unfortunately, women in North Carolina did not make it into the top ten. Not even close. At the low rank of 39, we barely escaped being in the Top Ten Worst States for Women.
Here are some of the data points that gave us a grade of “D-“ from the report on our state:
- Women in North Carolina continue to make 82 cents on the dollar compared to similarly-situated men. Women of color fare significantly worse – Hispanic women, for instance, only earn 49 cents compared to white men.
- One in five women in North Carolina live in poverty, and almost one in three African American women live below the poverty line.
- Almost one in five women under 65 in North Carolina lack health insurance, and our state has the fourth highest rate of uninsured Hispanic women under 65.
- Despite the fact that women comprise more than half of North Carolina’s population, only one in five congressional seats in our state are held by women.
These statistics are alarming. And it doesn’t even end there. North Carolina now has the 10th highest poverty rate and the 10th highest child poverty rate in the nation. Education has the potential to move us up, but even here we find ourselves at the bottom of the list with 48th in per-student spending.
Long-term structural inequality is a partial explanation for these low marks, but state policy decisions made over the last year will continue to keep us close to the bottom of the barrel on state-by-state rankings of how women and families are faring.
Over the last year, North Carolina repeatedly made national headlines for scrooge-like policy decisions like limiting marriage rights, creating a tax shift that burdens the middle class and the poor, cutting unemployment insurance in a jobless recovery, failing to provide health insurance to 500,000 North Carolinians by rejecting Medicaid expansion, restricting women’s access to heath care, limiting local government’s ability to establish a living wage ordinances, and for extreme cuts to public education.
And we even made it to number one on a national 2013 Top Five list of Voting Rights Moments by passing the most extreme voter suppression law in the country. It’s a new North Carolina. But are these really the lists we want to be on?
Most of these policy decisions directly, or at the very least, disproportionately negatively affect women and families by increasing inequality, undermining our economic recovery, and by moving us into a social and political model of the past. We know that inequality corrodes well-being and we know that when women succeed, families and communities thrive.
North Carolina’s voters seem to agree that our policy makers can do better. The most recent Public Policy Polling numbers show that only 20 percent of voters approve of the job the state legislature is doing.
The New Year is a time during which we all resolve to do better. Our North Carolina is worth it. Let’s get on some new top ten lists in 2014.