Surina Khan, June 11, 2016, The Monterey Herald
A woman living in Monterey County most likely earns $18 an hour, just $37,710 per year, according to a recent report. She uses 60 percent of her monthly earnings for rent, and 40 percent for child care. Within her circle of five girlfriends, two have been food insecure in the last three years, one has not graduated from high school and two are currently not working. She is registered to vote but did not vote in the 2014 general election.
The Women’s Foundation of California recently partnered with the California Budget & Policy Center to release the California Women’s Well-Being Index, the first-ever online research tool that breaks down women’s well-being data for all of California’s 58 counties. We now have reliable data for every single county, including Monterey County, along five different dimensions: health, personal safety, employment and earnings, economic security and political empowerment.
So what’s the state of Monterey County when it comes to women’s well-being? The data tell us we have work to do. Overall, the county ranks 38 out of 58 counties on the five elements the index measures. Lassen and Butte counties fare a little worse and San Joaquin and Riverside are doing a little better.
The good news is that Monterey County has one of the lowest wage gaps in the California, ranking five out of 58. That means on average, women in Monterey County earn 90 cents to a man’s dollar. Compare that to California overall, where women earn 84 cents to a dollar and that’s something to celebrate.
Monterey County also leads the state in two more areas: 15.6 percent of women in the county are employed in low-wage jobs, compared to 18.3 percent statewide. Similar trends exist for unemployment — 9.6 percent of women in the county are unemployed, compared to 11 percent for California.
Unfortunately, the county’s low ranking is due to low scores on two of the five indicators: health and economic security. From 2010-14, health care coverage in the county for women ages 18 to 64 was almost the lowest in the state — 57 out of 58. That is, almost 27 percent of women in the county did not have medical insurance in those years. What’s more, the overall general health of women in Monterey County was not good — within those four years, one in four women reported fair or poor health.
Another area where Monterey County needs to improve is in economic security, which ranked 49 out of 58. That’s because the cost of housing in this county is very high, with fair market rent now comprising 60 percent of a single mother’s median income. And the annual cost of child are for an infant is 40 percent of a single mother’s income. After paying for housing and child care, a mother in Monterey County doesn’t have a single penny left over.
Monterey County also has a devastatingly low high school graduation rate. Twenty-seven percent of women in the county do not have a high school diploma. Nothing is worse for women’s economic well-being than not having a high school diploma. Education is directly proportional to economic well-being. More education almost always equals higher earnings, decreased chances of unemployment, better health outcomes and lower chances of incarceration.
The silver lining is that now that we have the data, we know we need to move into action. It will require all of us working together to improve the well-being of women not just in Monterey County but also throughout California.
The county data show the need to invest more in women and girls. As a statewide community foundation, the Women’s Foundation of California raises and invests nearly $4 million every year into grassroots organizations that work to strengthen women’s economic well-being. And we train women to become policy advocates and fight for laws that benefit women and help repeal laws that harm them. Thus far, we’ve trained 400 women who’ve passed 25 state laws.
From policymakers to businesses and voters, we can all play a part in strengthening the well-being of women in counties across the state, including Monterey. Here is how:
- Help girls graduate from high school. Invest in K-12 technical education, digital infrastructure in schools and computer science classes so when they do graduate, girls are ready to enter professions that offer living wages.
- Make child care more affordable through increased funding for early education programs and improving child care quality. To be affordable, child care should be 10 percent of a family’s budget. In Monterey County, it costs about four times that for a single mother making the median income. Such prohibitive cost keeps many women out of the workforce.
- Reduce the cost of living through reform and policy change, such as making affordable housing more available. Housing is the biggest cost for women and families and high cost of housing hits low-income households the most.
Surina Khan is the CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California.