By Sarah Moncelle
On Feb 1, 2016, the Wake County Commission for Women (WCCW) released the State of Employment for Women in Wake County, a wide-ranging and informative report that tracks and evaluates the current condition of Wake County women in the work force. In addition to assessing the level of income disparity between the sexes, the study identifies and investigates the barriers to access job-seeking women face when entering and re-entering the labor market. It further provides an overview of programs that exist to assist women in overcoming such impediments and offers a set of recommendations to reduce their effect.
The report reveals a significant income gap (almost 30%) between the sexes despite similar levels of education; currently, the median earnings for females over 25 in Wake County are more than $15,000 less than that of males. Holding true to wider trends at the state and national levels, this gap is even wider for women of color;
as is the case in other studies cited by the authors, “white women are paid more than African American and Hispanic women at nearly all education levels.” The authors recommendations for closing the wage gap include promoting workplace flexibility, enacting stronger equal pay regulations, supporting programs directed at encouraging female participation in STEM fields, and supporting programs aimed at job training and professional development. The report also recommends encouraging paid internships and “returnships” in both professional and non-professional fields.
The authors also investigated the difficulties women face when returning to work following an extended absence from the workplace, an issue that “disproportionately affects women versus men.” According to a WCCW survey of Wake County women seeking employment, “approximately 81% of the women surveyed reported facing barriers to finding employment.” The authors note that women in Wake County face barriers to employment due to education, lack of affordable, quality childcare, mental health issues, a lack of transportation, substance abuse problems, and previous criminal histories or exposure to the criminal legal system.
Accessing affordable childcare, in particular, is a common challenge for many women in Wake County as childcare costs in the County are among the highest in the state. The authors report that “the annual cost of a five star childcare center for an infant/toddler is almost double the annual in-state tuition for a North Carolina public college.” Many Wake County women also struggle to contend with the stigma attached to mental illness and the negative stereotypes that are “rampant in the workplace.” This is especially concerning since “53% of Wake County residents who receive mental health services through Medicaid and the State Health Plan are women.” The report also details the role of transportation access in the economic mobility of women. Access to reliable public transportation can be especially important to the “24% of Wake County women ages 16 and over living in households with access to only one car” and the “2% of Wake County women ages 16 and over do not have a car.”
The WCCW offers the following recommendations to assist women returning to work
- improving access to more educational opportunities for women
- support programs that make high-quality childcare affordable
- recognize that mental health challenges for women are significant and work to decrease the stigma attached to mental illness
- support recommendations to expand public transportation access
- support and fund substance abuse treatment programs for women
- implementing fair-chance hiring strategies and encouraging local businesses to do the same