RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women are more politically engaged and benefiting from a narrower income gap with men over the past two decades, but they still face obstacles to receiving health care and benefits that would help them thrive in the workplace, according to a new report.
"All women in this state deserve the chance to make the best of their abilities so they can take care of themselves and their children," Gov. Beverly Perdue said at Thursday's release of the summary of the first "Status of Women in North Carolina" report in 16 years.
Perdue, the state's first female governor, is proof of the increased political influence of women. The report said women are voting in greater percentages than men in North Carolina and recently held 22 percent of the seats in the General Assembly compared with 17 percent in 1996, when Perdue was a state senator.
Women earned 83 percent of what men make in North Carolina in 2010 compared with 79 percent nationwide. Women made 72 percent of a man's median income in the state 20 years earlier, according to the report commissioned by the North Carolina Council for Women and assembled by the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research. The teen pregnancy rate also has fallen and women fare well on preventive medical care compared to the nation, the report said.
But too many working mothers are struggling in a spiral of low-paying jobs with no health care coverage or paid leave, according to the governor. The wage gap, the cost of child care and limited access to public assistance programs mean many households led by single mothers face "serious economic uncertainty," the report said.
Homes headed by single females with children in North Carolina earned median income of $20,393 in 2010, or 68 percent of what homes headed by single men with children earn, the report said.
Problems are more acute for women of color and those in rural communities, said Beth Briggs, the council's executive director.
"Whether women live in big cities or rural communities, there are just too many women — and I've met many of them — who feel like their challenges are insurmountable and they're stuck in a low-wage, female-dominated job where they transition in and out," Perdue said. Pregnant women often must leave their jobs, only to return later to a lower position, the governor said.
The governor said state government also has been at fault for giving women economic insecurity when agencies have relied on temporary workers without benefits because of budget cuts.
"We're better than that as a people, and our Legislature should stand up and fund these employees better," Perdue said.
The report recommends encouraging employers to perform internal audits to point out gender pay disparities. Women also need more access to child care and education, according to the report. The report summary's release occurred in a Wake Technical Community College classroom, where a largely female student body learns to become nurses' aides.
The news conference featured a Wake County woman who said she successfully left an abusive marriage thanks in part to community programs, as well as a female executive with Wells Fargo. The bank paid for more than a third of the $90,000 study, Briggs said, with the council picking up a third.
The final report, to be released in January, can serve as a resource for policymakers and community leaders, Briggs said.
The Status of Women in North Carolina report summary: http://www.councilforwomen.nc.gov/docs.aspx