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Study finds Missouri women are still struggling in income, jobs, health and education

This artice first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 16, 2010 - Here are a few eye-opening numbers regarding the status of women in the Show-Me State:

  • More than one-third of Missouri women -- 36 percent -- live in poverty, compared to 31 percent of men. (The study defines poverty as 200 percent of "federal poverty level," which some researchers believe, the study says, is a more realistic guideline. For example, in 2010, 200 percent of the FPL for a family of three was $35,136.)
  • 32 percent of Missouri women who are poor or working poor have no health insurance.
  • On average, the earnings of Missouri women are three-fourths of men’s earnings.

There are other worrisome statistics in the “Missouri Women’s Report,” a recently released study by the University of Missouri Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. The report was commissioned by the Women’s Policy Alliance to determine how the status of Missouri women has fared in the decade since the Institute for Women’s Policy Research gave the state a grade of “C” in its 2002 national report “Status of Women in the States.”

“We wanted to document where Missouri has come and specifically break it down by counties. The original report did not do that,’’ said Nancy Wegge, president of the Foundation for Missouri Women.

The new report doesn’t assign a performance grade to the state, but Wegge said it indicates progress but also gaps and regional disparities where improvement is needed.

“We’re hoping that people will look at the data especially in their own areas -- whether they’re a legislator or policymaker or someone working in the community -- to see what needs to be done,’’ she said.

Wegge will be one of the participants in a forum at 10 a.m. Friday at the Missouri History Museum to publicize the report locally. The forum is sponsored by the Women’s Policy Alliance, the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis.

The “Missouri Women’s Report’’ is broken down by topics, such as health care, work, education, economic justice and civic engagement. It is available onlineand includes comprehensive charts, maps and an interactive tool that allows users to find and compare data by county.

Wegge, whose focus was work and education, said the report found that 62 percent of Missouri’s women are working full-time or part-time. Women with higher education are earning wages more in line with men: They make 90 cents for every dollar earned by men.

She hopes these findings will illustrate the importance of higher education at a time when more young women are dropping out of high school.

“There certainly are no jobs for people without a high school degree,’’ she said. “We’re hoping this will encourage young women to continue their education past high school. And those that didn’t get a high school diploma might consider going back if they are finding that they are stalled in their jobs or can’t find jobs.’’

Here are some other key findings from the report:

  • In the city of St. Louis and seven Missouri counties, 20 to 40 percent of families are headed by single women. These families tend to be more stressed financially and socially than two-income families. The most urbanized counties and the Bootheel counties have the highest percent of single women heads of households, while the northern rural counties have the least. “These findings are likely driven by the fact that Bootheel and urban counties have larger minority populations, and minority women are more likely to be single heads of households than non-minority women,” according to the report.
  • In health care, the study found that rural areas have the highest incidence of breast cancer deaths. The rate of teen births, while down statewide since 2000, varies widely across the state.
  • The report notes the underrepresentation of women in the Missouri legislature: The state Senate has six women and 28 men; the House has 41 women and 121 men.

“It’s reports like this that make people take a look and say, ‘Yes, we’ve made progress, but, boy, we have a ways to go,’ ’’ Wegge said. “We hope they don’t just put it on a shelf and say, ‘That was nice.’ We hope people who actually allocate funds and set policies will look at what they can do to help.”

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.