Mount St. Mary’s College (MSMC) hosted an event to release its 2014 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California (“Report”) on March 27th. The only women’s college in Los Angeles, MSMC has released a report each of the last three years to highlight the challenges and persisting inequities faced by the now 19.1 million women and girls living in California.
Over 1,000 participants gathered to learn more about the findings of the Report, including event speakers: Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, President of MSMC; Dr. Helen Boutrous, Chair of MSMC’s History and Political Science department; Dr. Susie Baldwin, a Preventive Medicine physician serving as Chief for the Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology for the LA County Department of Public Health; Geena Davis, actress and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media; Ana Guerrero, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Chief of Staff; Kelly Jenkis-Pultz, a Program Analyst in the Region 9 Women’s Bureau; the Honorable Shelia Kuehl, former State Senator; and Connie Rice, Co-Founder of the Advancement Project, among others.
Economic security is a top concern for women in California. The Report indicates that of the 6.3 million Californians living below the poverty threshold, 54% are women. Nearly 1/3 of those women are under the age of 18 and 9% are under 5; 54% are Latina. 29% of female-headed households with no husband present live in poverty—more than twice the percentage of all families (13%). The most impoverished women in California are those with the least amount of education.
While California women today earn college degrees at higher rates than men, women are under represented in the highest paying jobs. Women remain more likely to work in lower ranks of most occupational categories. For example, women constitute just 35% of California’s attorneys, yet 78% of legal support workers and assistants. (One bright spot in the Report is that women constitute 49% of California’s judges).
Pay equity is a challenge for women in California, although to a lesser extent compared to women across the nation. According to the Report, California women earn just 83 cent on the dollar compared to men (nationally women earn 78 cents on the dollar) and women across the nation earn less in every occupational category compared to men. Ms. Jenkis-Pultz explained that the wage gap is a function of the fact that women work in lower paid jobs and have less work experience because they spend more time caring for their families.
Regarding pay equity, several speakers cited the fact that men often negotiate higher salaries as compared to women. Senator Kuehl pointed out that single mothers might be particularly risk averse when it comes to salary negotiations because they have a lot to lose. Moreover, Ana Guerrero stated that those who grow up in poverty often do not feel comfortable asking for things or negotiating with a boss, neighbor or husband.
In terms of health and well being, the Report indicates that while life expectancy continues to rise for women in California, low-income women struggle to ensure good health for themselves and their kids. Dr. Baldwin indicated that lifting women out of poverty would go a long way in improving health. For example, she stated that 42% of women in poverty in Los Angeles are food insecure. One of the most alarming statistics cited in the Report is that approximately 40% of adult women in California have reported experiencing intimate partner violence during their lifetime. Moreover, California posted a 30% increase in homicides of women by intimate or former intimate partners from 2008 to 2011.
Finally, the Report indicates that women in California have not come close to achieve parity in terms of holding elected office at any level of government. Since 2005, California has dropped from 10th place to 19th place in the number of women serving in state legislative office. Women are also underrepresented in California local governments; only 23% of the state’s Mayors of Cities and members of County Board of Supervisors, respectively, are women. Senator Kuehl opined that many women may not be interested in campaigning, but that the work women can accomplish after winning a campaign is incredibly important. One encouraging fact noted by Ms. Guerrero is that 50% of Los Angeles’ City Commissioners are now women.
MSMC hopes the Report will inspire action to ensure all women and girls have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and participate equally in society. A copy of the Report on the Status of Women & Girls in California is available at: statusofwomen.msmc.la.edu