A new report finds that even as women in Illinois outpace men when it comes to completing high school, they still lag on several major economic indicators. Women in the state have lower wages and less wealth than men. Women are also more likely to live in poverty.
The analysis, from the anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance, focuses on the intersection of gender and poverty. While many of its findings may no longer be surprising, the report offers a tantalizing possibility to policymakers who wish to tackle poverty in Illinois: that improving pay, working conditions, and supportive measures for women could dramatically improve the lot of more than one million children.
According to the report, 14 percent of women in Illinois live in poverty, compared with 11 percent of men. The disparities are starker when broken down by race: 17 percent of Latino women, and 28 percent of African-American women are in poverty. Those deep disparities carry over to wages, where Illinois women earn 76 cents for every dollar that white men earn. For African-American women, that falls to 63 cents, and Latino women earn just 50 cents.
Katie Buitrago, research director at Heartland Alliance, said the gender pay gap was still inequitable even after researchers corrected for education level.
The inequities are stunning when evaluating overall wealth. Citing nationwide figures, for every dollar of wealth a single white man has, a single white woman has 54 cents, a single African-American woman has one cent, and a single Latina woman has less than one cent.
“When you’re thinking about people’s ability to weather an emergency without having to go to a payday lender or get into other sort of dangerous debt, that’s really shocking,” said Buitrago.
Buitrago said these inequities are partly a reflection of the lower-quality jobs that women often have in the job market.
“They lack access to important benefits that come along with work, such as paid time off, retirement savings, access to tax benefits, and more,” she said.
Additionally, Buitrago said the disparities are also a result of the weaker attachment that women have to the labor market, often due to forces beyond their control. For example, the report finds that women disproportionately carry the burden of unpaid care for children, elderly parents or disabled relatives.
“We really need to value and compensate this work so that women, or people in general who are engaging in unpaid care, have a guaranteed standard of living,” she said.
The report lists child care costs, insufficient cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, and immigration policies requiring women to have men petition on their behalf for permission to work outside the home among contributing factors to higher poverty for women.
The report suggests that Illinois could reduce women’s poverty rates by more than half, and the poverty rate for children with working moms by 43 percent, if the gender wage gap were fixed. In all, it calculates a $20.5 billion boost to women’s earnings and the state economy.
The report recommends policy changes such as expanding subsidized child care and mandating paid family leave to strengthen women’s attachment to the labor force. It also proposes expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit so that those who provide unpaid care receive at least a basic amount of compensation.
Odette Yousef is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @oyousef