Chutes & Ladders: The Search for Solid Ground for Women in the Workforce

Comments by Jill Miller, Women Work! President/CEO

Thank you Sandra, and to Congresswoman Solis, a great leader and role model for women across America, and to the entire Congressional Women’s Caucus for hosting us here today.

I had hoped I would stand here today with good news, but unfortunately, I have the disappointing task of reporting that the number of single mothers and displaced homemakers is no better than it was ten years ago. What we have uncovered in today’s report is the dramatic increase in the combined number of single mothers and displaced homemakers – up from 15 million in 1994 to 20.9 million in 2003 an increase overall of 39%.

When looking at these two groups together, every state in the nation had an increase during the past decade.
And the data do not discriminate. These women cross every socio-economic-geographic line. In fact, the states with percentage increases over 50% include: Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

These women continue to struggle to get a solid footing in the workplace and too often find themselves sliding into low-wage jobs, female-dominated jobs, and jobs with few benefits and little opportunity. These are the Chutes women face and they are indeed like a roller coaster.

Here is the really bad news, and what should be of great concern to all of us: 58% of displaced homemakers are either poor or near poor; 47% of single mothers are poor or near poor. This is devastating.

58% of displaced homemakers are either poor or near poor; 47% of single mothers are poor or near poor.

Why is this? First, the low earnings are related in part to the occupations in which they are employed. Displaced homemakers and single mothers are significantly over-represented in low-paying service jobs. While 43% of all working women nationally are employed in service and administrative support jobs, 50% of displaced homemakers and 53% of single mothers are employed in these jobs.

Low educational levels also contribute to low earnings. 58% of displaced homemaker and nearly two-thirds of single mothers have not completed education beyond high school. Incomes increases dramatically for women when they attain associates and bachelors degrees.

There have been many reports about the success of women in professions that used to be all male bastions lawyers, doctors, and accountants the same progress is not true for women workers in general. Women remain clustered in just 20 of the 440 occupations.

Another interesting data point is that the age of these groups of women has risen over the decade. Today more than one-half of displaced homemakers are over 45. The age of single mothers has also increased with half between the ages of 25 and 44. Only 16% are teen mothers, contradicting the stereotype that single moms are overwhelmingly teens or very young women.

Over the next decade the number of skilled workers will fall far short of the needs of the labor market. How our nation’s economic prosperity will be determined depends on how effectively the resource of labor pools, such as displaced homemakers and single mothers are utilized. And that is the good news. These women represent an important untapped resource one that stands ready and willing to fill these shortagesright in our own backyard. The predicted labor shortages make displaced homemakers and single mothers an important untapped resource.

It is not our mission, however, to stand here today and just talk about the problems.

Women Work! is about providing solutions, and our report today outlines what can be done to change this picture. That’s where the “Ladders” come in. Ladders that can be built by both the public and private sectors. The solutions lie in changes in employer practices and legislative policy making.

For employers:

  • Flexible work schedules for employees
  • Leave policies that ensure employees have access to paid sick and family leave
  • Benefits to part-time employees
  • Recognition of real-life skills as transferable to the workplace
  • Policies to manage the effects of domestic and sexual violence in the workplace

For policymakers:

  • Increase funding for education and training programs for displaced homemakers and single mothers
  • Improve access to training in the federal job training system
  • Increase the federal commitment to nontraditional training programs for women
  • Amend welfare law so TANF participants can pursue education and training
  • Increase the federal minimum wage
  • Enact legislation to promote employment stability, economic security and safety for victims of domestic violence in the workplace
  • Expand and strengthen the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Ensure that Social Security reform addresses the needs of women workers who have lower lifetime earnings and longer life spans
  • Utilize state funding for programs serving displaced homemakers and single mothers as a community and economic growth initiative.

Women Work! will spend 2005 educating policymakers and the business community on the study’s findings, advocating for these recommendations, and fighting President Bush’s proposed funding cuts to vital training and education programs.

We remain committed to our role as a critical link between programs, agencies and educational institutions nationwide that provide education, job training and support services to millions of America’s displaced homemakers, single parents and other women in transition.

Thank you for being here today.