Women in Santa Clara County lag in wages, education

Surina Khan, July 20, 2016, The Mercury News—Here is a snapshot of the state of women in Santa Clara County today:

A single mother most likely uses half of her wages for housing. Add in the cost of paying for childcare, which can be more than 35 percent of her income for one child, and chances are she won't have enough money left to pay for food, clothes, healthcare and transportation. Out of 10 women in Santa Clara County, three work in low-wage jobs and one did not graduate from high school.

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 wellbeing data for the state's 58 counties. We now have reliable data for every single California county across five elements: Health, Personal Safety, Employment & Earnings, Economic Security and Political Empowerment.

The data tells us that Santa Clara is a tale of two counties. Overall, it ranks high--14 out of 58 counties--on the five elements the Index measures, landing within the top 20 percent. Nevada and Orange counties are a little lower, while Mariposa and San Luis Obispo fare a little better.

Santa Clara County has some of the highest wages for women in the state: median earnings near $60,000 per year, ranking third within the 58 counties. Just 10 percent of its women live in poverty.

Santa Clara also has lower costs for childcare, especially compared to neighboring counties. But the costs are still too high, considering more than half of a single mother's monthly salary would go toward childcare for her two small children.

But Santa Clara County still has work to do when it comes to the number of women in low-wage occupations, the wage gap, housing costs, and civic participation and leadership.

One in three women in the county works in a low-wage job: Only San Benito County is worse off. Santa Clara County's wealth gap is almost as dismal, rating 50 out of 58 counties. Women only earn 74 cents to a man's dollar, which is significantly lower than average rates for California, 84 cents, and the nation, 79 cents.

Education is another area in which the county must improve. Education is directly proportional to economic wellbeing, and nothing is worse for women's financial security than not having a high school degree. More education almost always equals higher earnings, lower chances of unemployment, better health outcomes and lower chances of incarceration.

Unfortunately, in Santa Clara County, 14 percent of women do not have high school diplomas.

Now that we have the data, we must move into action. From policy makers to businesses and voters, we can all play a part. Here is how:

We can reduce the cost of living through policy change, such as making affordable housing more available. Housing is the biggest cost for women and families, and the high cost of housing hits low-income households the most.

We must invest in training and other opportunities for girls and women in technical education, digital infrastructure and computer science. This can have a two-fold impact of reducing the number of women in low-wage jobs and closing the gender wage gap.

Finally, we can make childcare more affordable through increased funding for early education programs and improving childcare quality. To be affordable, childcare should be 10 percent of a family's budget.

All of us must step up to support women's economic wellbeing, not just in Santa Clara County but across the state. Our children, families, communities and economy all depend on it. To explore the California Women's Wellbeing Index: http://www.womensfoundca.org/womens-wellbeing-index