Equal Pay Would Cut Poverty for Working Women in the South by More than Half

New report finds few southern states receive a grade higher than a D+ on women’s economic, political, health, and social status

At the current rate, women in West Virginia and South Carolina will have to wait over 200 years to reach parity in their state legislatures

For immediate release, February 25, 2016

Contact: Rachel Linn, linn@iwpr.org, 202.785.5100, or Jennifer Clark, clark@iwpr.org

Washington, DC—A new report, released in advance of Super Tuesday, by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), finds that the gender wage gap costs women in the South $155.4 billion per year. Closing the wage gap would reduce relatively high poverty rate for working women in the southern United States by more than half. Status of Women in the South is the first report to provide a comprehensive portrait of the status of women, particularly the status of women of color, in the southern states, grading each state on six different topic areas related to women’s economic, political, health, and social status.

With the exception of the District of Columbia, which received a B on women’s overall status, no state in the South was graded higher than a C- overall. The region performed relatively well on the Work & Family Index, with six states receiving either B’s or C’s and none of the states receiving failing grades, while the southern states received the worst grades on the Political Participation Index, with only one state earning a grade above D.

“With over one third of the nation’s women and girls calling the South home, a lack of progress for women in the region is a setback for the United States overall and especially for the South,” said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. and MacArthur Fellow. “The good news is that this report provides a roadmap for accelerating lasting change for women in the South. We can start by paying women equally and ensuring they have a seat at the table when policy decisions are made.”

The comprehensive report is available in full and by topic area at www.statusofwomendata.org/south. Other key findings include:

Political Participation

  • Promising: While southern women of color are less likely to be representatives at the federal level than their non-South counterparts, they are more likely to be representatives at the state level in the South. In fact, nearly half (48 percent) of black female state legislators in the United States serve in the southern states.
  • Disappointing: Women in West Virginia and South Carolina will have to wait over 200 years to reach parity in their state legislatures, if progress continues at the current rate since 1975.

Employment & Earnings

  • Promising: Education has a bigger percent impact on black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander women’s earnings in the South than in the rest of the country. For Asian/Pacific Islander women in the South, getting at least a bachelor’s degree translates into earnings that are more than two and half times the earnings for Asian/Pacific Islander women with only a high school diploma (median annual earnings of $65,000, compared with $25,000). Black and Hispanic women in the South nearly double their earnings with a college degree (from $24,700 to $48,000 for black women and from $24,000 to $47,000 for Hispanic women).
  • Disappointing: The gender wage gap cost the average woman in the South $6,392 in 2014. Added up for all working women, the wage gap cost women in the South $155.4 billion per year, the equivalent of 2.8 percent of the southern states’ combined gross domestic product.

Work & Family

  • Promising: Compared with the United States overall, women in the South tend to have better access to quality, affordable child care. Half of the 14 southern states rank in the top ten nationally on IWPR’s child care index, which includes indicators on child care cost and quality.
  • Disappointing: Paid leave policies are almost non-existent in the South. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the South to have any type of paid leave law, requiring employers to provide paid sick days. With half of all breadwinner mothers in the South being women of color, the lack of paid sick days or paid family leave disproportionately affects mothers of color in the region. Four of five black mothers are breadwinners (79.6 percent), compared with just around half of white (48.8 percent), Hispanic (50.4 percent), and Asian/Pacific Islander mothers (43.1 percent) in the South.

Poverty & Opportunity

  • Promising: Women’s business ownership is more common in the South than in the rest of the country. Nine of the 14 southern states have shares of women-owned businesses that are higher than the national average. Women of color are particularly entrepreneurial: black women owned nearly 60 percent of all black-owned businesses, compared with white women, who owned only one-third of all white-owned businesses.
  • Disappointing: Southern black and Hispanic women are twice as likely to live in poverty as southern white and Asian/Pacific Islander women. The poverty rate for black and Hispanic women in the South is 25.5 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively, compared with poverty rates for white and Asian/Pacific Islander women at 12.1 and 11.1 percent, respectively.

Reproductive Rights

  • Promising: 10 of the 14 southern states received grades above D and none of the states receives an F on the Reproductive Rights Index.
  • Disappointing: Infant mortality rates are alarmingly high in the South. Infant mortality rates in the South are 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with the much lower rate of 5.6 per 1,000 live births for all other states. The only southern state to have a lower rate than the national average is Texas (5.8 per 1,000 live births).

Health & Well-Being

  • Promising: Southern women are more likely than women in other regions to receive preventive care, including cholesterol screening, mammograms, and testing for HIV.
  • Disappointing: Women in the South are more likely to die from heart disease and breast cancer, more likely to have diabetes or AIDS, and have more days of poor mental health per month than women in the non-South states.

Violence & Safety

  • Promising: Although four southern states—Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia—are among the ten states with the highest number of reported cases of human trafficking in 2014, each of these states had passed significant laws that are critical for a comprehensive legal framework regarding trafficking.
  • Disappointing: Eleven southern states accounted for over one-third of all female homicides by a male in 2013 (571 of the 1,615 victims). Although the vast majority of female homicides committed by men occurred between intimate partners and more than half (53 percent) were committed using firearms, only four of the 13 southern states (Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia had barred those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from gun possession.

“For every promising sign for women in the South, there are far too many concerning ones,” said Dr. Hartmann. “Women’s status does not exist in a vacuum. Good health, freedom from violence, and autonomy over reproductive choices all intersect with women’s economic security and vice versa. Making sure women’s voices are heard at the ballot box and in the state house is central to improving women’s status in the South and beyond.”

Impact of Equal Pay in Each U.S. State

In addition to the analysis for the southern states, IWPR also published a fact sheet with data on the impact of equal pay on the state economy for each of the 50 states plus Washington, DC. The analysis finds:

  • Equal pay would cut the poverty rate among all working women by more than half in 28 states.
  • In 16 states, the poverty rate among single mothers would fall by more than half if working single mothers were paid the same as comparable men. In all states, poverty among working single mothers would fall by nearly a third or more.
  • California’s working women would have earned $51.8 billion more dollars with equal pay, an earnings increase that, by itself, is greater than the entire economy of South Dakota ($45.9 billion).