Economic security at risk for women, girls

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Four in 10 families headed by single mothers in Forsyth County live in poverty.

Women make up nearly half the county’s workforce, yet the median income of full-time female workers over age 16 trails the median income of men working full-time by nearly one-fourth.

And while teen pregnancy rates showed big declines in 75 of the North Carolina’s 100 counties in 2008, they grew 8.2 percent in Forsyth, with 67 of every 1,000 teen girls ages 15 to 19 in the county becoming pregnant, compared to 58 per 1,000 throughout the state.

Those are among the findings in a new report from The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem on the economic status of women and girls in Forsyth County.

The report examines poverty rates, wages, educational attainment and occupations, plus the costs of housing, utilities, food, transportation, child care and health care.

Concluding that many women and girls in the county face a host of individual, social and systemic barriers to a secure economic future, the report calls for programs and policies to address those challenges.

The Women’s Fund, an advised fund at the Winston-Salem Foundation that has awarded nearly $500,000 in the last three years to local groups to improve the lives of women and girls, says it will use the study to inform its grantmaking and its work.

But it also says community partnerships are essential.

“Real change will take place only through the comprehensive, coordinated, and collaborative efforts of community organizations, governmental agencies, policymakers, employers, funding organizations, and the general public,” the study says.

Undertaken to fill what The Women’s Fund saw as a gap in data and research, Through a Gender Lens: The Economic Security of Women and Girls in Forsyth County is based on data and information collected by Gramercy Research Group in Winston-Salem and by the staff of The Women’s Fund.

Among the findings:

  • Women and girls make up 52 percent of the more than 337,000 people in Forsyth County, the report says, with girls under age 18 making up 23 percent of the female population, women ages 18 to 64 making up 62.6 percent, and women over 65 making up 14.4 percent.
  • Of the 134,632 households in Forsyth County, 47 percent are married couples, and 13 percent are single.
  • Forsyth County is home to 15,574 Hispanic women and girls, according to American Community Survey estimates, or 8.9 percent of the county’s females, a number the study says likely is higher because of Hispanics who live in the county without proper documentation.
  • Sixty percent of women in the county participate in the labor force.
  • With a federal poverty guideline of $10,830 for an individual and $18,310 for a family of three, 16.1 percent of females of all ages in the county fall below the poverty level, compared to 12.5 percent of males.
  • Federal guidelines call for households to spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing-related expenses for their housing to be considered affordable, yet 60 percent of female householders in Forsyth County with no husband present and children under age 18 in the home earn so little, less than $25,000 a year, they pay too big a share of their income on housing for it to be considered affordable.
  • Roughly 13,767 children under age 11 in Forsyth County are eligible for child-care subsidies, yet only 24 percent of them receiving subsidies.

The study makes a range of programmatic and policy recommendations, including providing women with education and training to give them access to better-paying jobs; increasing their income and benefits; supporting female entrepreneurs and business owners; building women’s assets and financial literacy; increasing access to high-quality, affordable day care; educating girls to prepare them for economic success; preventing teen pregnancy and supporting teen mothers; and ensuring that low-income women have access to safe and affordable housing.

Chaired by Michelle Cook, vice chancellor for university advancement at Winston-Salem State University and executive director of the WSSU Foundation, the women’s fund has nearly 800 members who contribute to the fund.

The fund, which awards grants each year totaling roughly $175,000, in May will issue a request for proposals for its “grassroots grants” of up to $10,000 each and for its “community grants” of up to $50,000 each.

Grants for the coming year will aim to address challenges identified by the study.

“We’re not doing enough to invest in women and girls and their economic security,” says Tari Hanneman, director of the Women’s Fund and author of the study. “If we do that, we will benefit the entire community.”

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