Despite gains, Colorado's women, girls still face obstacles | The Bell Policy Center

Despite gains, Colorado's women, girls still face obstacles

The Women's Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) recently released a comprehensive report on the status of women and girls in Colorado, which it produced in partnership with the Institute for Women's Policy Research. While women and girls in Colorado have made significant social, economic and political progress, significant inequities remain that create barriers preventing women and girls from reaching their full potential.

The report, The Status of Women & Girls in Colorado, found that women, on average, still earn less than men and are also more likely to be poor.  There are considerable disparities in opportunities and access to resources among women and girls of different races or ethnicities, household types and geographic locations.

The report addresses five topic areas – economic security and poverty; employment and earnings; educational opportunity; community leadership; and personal safety.

Economic Security and Poverty

Approximately one in eight women (13 percent, or 250,388) aged 18 and older in Colorado during 2011 had family incomes below the federal poverty line. The 2011 federal poverty line was $11,484 for a single person with no children and $18,123 for a single person with two children. An additional 330,918 women were living in families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent ($36,246) of the federal poverty line and were considered living in "near poverty." That means, in 2011, nearly three out of every 10 Colorado women (581,306) were living in poverty or near poverty.

Poverty levels of women in the state vary largely by race and ethnicity, however. One in four (25 percent, or 14,827) Asian-American women and one in five (22 percent, or 310,992) white women have family incomes that are below the federal poverty line or near poverty, whereas just about half of Latina (50 percent, or 158,689 women), Native American (48 percent, or 5,165) and African-American (46 percent, or 28,173) women live below or near poverty.

Poverty rates for women also varied by geographic locations. In the northwest region of the state, 9 percent of women were living in poverty, while in the southeast that number rose to nearly 20 percent.

Family types also greatly influence poverty rates. Families headed by single mothers had the lowest median annual income ($26,705) of all Coloradan family types, earning only 31 percent of the income of married-couple families with dependent children. And according to the report, the cost of full-time child care is almost half (48 percent) of a single mother's median annual income.

Employment and Earnings

Although the gender wage gap has improved in recent years, women's median annual full-time earnings ($40,000) in 2011 were merely 80 percent of men's ($50,000).  Between 1999 and 2008-2010, the gender wage gap between white men and white women grew smaller, whereas the gap grew larger between white men and women from the other largest racial/ethnic groups. The 2008-2010 median annual earnings of Latina, Native American, African-American and Asian-American women were considerably below self-sufficiency levels in many Colorado counties.

Educational Opportunity

The report found that Colorado women, overall, are relatively well-educated. Twenty-eight percent of women in the nation aged 25 and older have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 36 percent of Colorado women in the same age range.

Community Leadership

In 2013, women held 41 percent of legislative seats in the Colorado General Assembly, which ranked Colorado first in the United States for women's representation in state legislatures.  Women in Colorado, however, are still underrepresented in relation to their share of the state's population.

Personal Safety

Unfortunately, Colorado has the sixth highest lifetime prevalence of rape in the nation. One in four women (24 percent, or 451,000 women) aged 18 or older has been raped in Colorado. The report said, "Without a sense of safety, women and girls may remain reluctant to take on leadership roles or pursue educational and job-training opportunities that could lead to higher wages and better quality jobs."

The Women's Foundation of Colorado intends the report to be used as a development tool for more effective public policies that will help women and girls reach their full potential.  Addressing the disparities and inequities highlighted in the report – such as poverty and low wages, food insecurity, barriers to affordable child care and dangers to personal safety – is critical to the state of Colorado's well-being.

WFCO outlined potential strategies for action for advocates, community leaders, policymakers, service providers and other key stakeholders. It suggests educating young girls on the effects of their decisions, advising employees on how to implement best practices for both recruiting and retaining women, holding public authorities accountable for creating gender balance in training, increasing the accessibility and affordability of child care and supporting the efforts of organizations that prepare and position women for leadership roles.

Since 1987, the Women's Foundation of Colorado has invested more than $10 million with 250 strategic partners in 75 Colorado communities to create change for women and girls. In 2012, WFCO conducted a listening tour, which provided a forum for women and girls to reflect on both their personal potential and other women's potential in the Colorado landscape. The responses to the listening tour influenced the topics selected for its report.

– Meredith Antonucci