STEM Report Points to a Means of Economic Security for Low-Income Women

By Margaret Kran-Annexstein

Job opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are some of the fastest-growing industries in the country yet women’s presence in STEM education at the community college level is dropping. Between 2000–2001 and 2008–2009, the number of women earning associate’s degrees in STEM fields decreased by 25.7 percent. Meanwhile, jobs in STEM fields are expected to nearly double by 2018.

A new IWPR report, Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at Community Colleges, proposes solutions for bridging this training and jobs gap for women. The report addresses obstacles faced by women in STEM fields, and how educational institutions and organizations can help women to overcome these challenges.

It is important to encourage all women, but particularly low-income women and student parents, to pursue STEM fields. STEM degrees can be a link to better economic security because they lead to jobs in fields with better pay and narrower wage gaps—a 14 percent wage gap exists in STEM jobs versus 21 percent in non-STEM jobs.

From the report:

Women at the community college level are more likely than men to enroll in educational fields and training for jobs in traditionally female occupations—such as child care workers, health aids, or administrative assistants—with low starting pay, flat wage trajectories, and poor benefits (Hegewisch et al. 2010; Negrey et al. 2001). By contrast, women who train for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—fields typically dominated by men—see strong economic returns.

I always liked math and science in elementary and high school. However, somewhere along the way, I abandoned STEM education, just like many other women and girls. In this difficult economy, why do so many women steer away from fields that offer so many job opportunities? During the release event for the STEM report, Roberto Rodriguez, a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that women and girls drop out or avoid STEM education because of a “lack of role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility that exists in STEM fields.”

Sara Manzano-Díaz, who also spoke at the report release event, focuses a lot of her attention on the encouragement of young girls in her role as director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. She sees that “education is the great equalizer” and by becoming role models and mentors for girls, we can encourage them to pursue STEM degrees and pave their way to fulfilling careers.

The report outlines steps that community colleges could be taking in order to recruit and retain women, especially mothers who face more challenges in completing their degrees and need flexibility in their study schedules. Increasing the number of student parents studying STEM fields can have lasting effects—not only on the quality of life of a graduate once they leave school, but also on their children. According to her research, author of the report Cynthia Costello found that children whose mothers pursue postsecondary education are more likely to receive college degrees themselves.

Women have made such huge leaps in education equality and this makes their minority presence in STEM fields of study all the more shocking.

The reality that women are highly underrepresented in STEM fields is distressing because those fields are in need of skilled workers in a shifting economy. It is also a missed opportunity to incorporate diverse perspectives in a growing industry.

“We need… more girls who believe they can grow up to invent and to discover,” said Rodriguez at the release event. “Invention and discovery in engineering and science is creative act. It benefits from a multitude of viewpoint…So without diversity we are paying inherently an opportunity cost here because that’s a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, ultimately in constraints that are not understood.”

Margaret Kran-Annexstein is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Living on a Dime: Small Wages and Large Gender Wage Gap in Restaurant Industry, According to Recent Report

By Margaret Kran-Annexstein

If I were to tell you that there are workers in the United States being paid $2.13 per hour, you’d probably tell me that that’s impossible because the minimum wage in this country is $7.25 and anything less is illegal. Well, you’d be right of course, but unfortunately, regulations on the tipped minimum wage have not kept up with the federal minimum wage.

In February, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), in conjunction with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and a number of other organizations, released Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequality in the Restaurant Industry. Among its other findings, this report exposes the restaurant business as an industry that has found a way to skirt the federal minimum wage, exacerbate the gender wage gap, and further reduce the economic security of employees by not providing health insurance or paid sick leave to most workers.

In 1991, the tipped minimum wage was 50 percent of the federal minimum wage. However, when the federal minimum wage increased in 1996, the tipped minimum wage remained the same and has not been adjusted. Today, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the tipped minimum wage remains at $2.13 an hour, less than 30 percent of the generally accepted $7.25 federal minimum wage. Although some states choose to raise that minimum, these regulations allow the restaurant industry to shortchange a vast number of its employees—a disproportionate number of whom are women.

As a student with many female friends working in the restaurant industry to help pay enormous tuition bills, I was disturbed by the findings of this report. The reality is that tipped workers often must rely on the generosity of their customers to make a living. Technically, employers are supposed to pay the difference if a worker does not make the minimum in wages plus tips but this requirement may not always be upheld or enforced. As one woman from Fort Worth, Texas testifies, “I can’t tell you how many times I made less than $20–$40 a day during the lunch rush…LOTS…I don’t understand how restaurants get away with not paying their employees minimum wage…”

Gender Segregation in the Dining Room

The notion that women and men should be paid equal wages is also overlooked due to hiring practices in the restaurant industry that solidify the gender wage gap. Female restaurant workers make on average 79 percent of what men do because women tend to hold the lower-paid positions in the restaurant world.

Women, especially women of color, hold a disproportionate amount of jobs in lower-paying restaurants while men dominate fine dining establishments—where wages can be 24 percent higher than wages in family style restaurants. Women who do obtain positions in fine dining are seldom hired as captains or martre d’s, the higher ranking, cushier positions with more supervising duties and less reliance on tips. One account from Tipped Over the Edge quotes a general manager refusing to hire a qualified women of color saying, “You don’t have the look to be a maître d’, but I can hire you as a hostess.”

There are laws that effectually set in stone wage inequality because these different ranks in restaurants hold different minimum wage requirements (the restaurant industry is one of the only sectors where you can find this discrepancy).

Many restaurant workers simply do not have enough money to support themselves: servers are forced to use food stamps at almost double the rate of the rest of the population. Rather than hold employers accountable to their staff, taxpayers have become responsible for the livelihood of many employed people through the size of their tips and the generosity of state programs.

“Try Not to Get Sick”

Not only do many restaurant workers receive painfully low wages, they often cannot afford to stay home when they get sick. In fact, ninety percent of restaurant workers lack paid sick days. One testimony from Tipped Over the Edge quotes a laughing manager telling a sick employee, who was concerned that if she did not go home she would make others sick, to “try not to cough.” Ninety percent of restaurant employees also lack employer-covered health insurance, making it even more difficult for them to seek medical care. Not only is this a violation of workers’ rights, it doesn’t make me feel very safe when I go out to try the best veggie burgers in DC.

My friends have to work in these unfair conditions but, unlike many restaurant workers, they have health insurance from their parents and are not providing for dependent children. For a single mother supporting a child on her own, Tipped Over the Edge shows that the restaurant industry can be a hostile work environment that lacks adequate living wages. Clearly change needs to come to the restaurant industry.

Margaret Kran-Annexstein is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

New Research from IWPR Finds Low Literacy Hurts Women More Than Men

By Kevin Miller

In an analysis of data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy that was recently published, IWPR found that women earn less than men regardless of literacy level, but that women with low literacy levels are particularly likely to have low earnings relative to men. Higher literacy levels are associated with higher earnings for both men and women, but the “jump” in earnings from low to high literacy is especially noticeable for women at earnings levels that can sustain women and their families.

These findings are consistent with the phenomenon that women need to do more to reach the earnings of men. The gender wage gap remains substantial after decades of measurement, occurs both between and within occupations, and—we now know—exists regardless of men and women’s degree of literacy. In order for women to earn the same amount as men, they must obtain more education and develop more skills than those possessed by men. Low literacy—which occurs at similar rates among women and men—is a barrier to effective education and training that can help low-income individuals obtain jobs that allow for family economic security.

Programs that help women (and men) improve their literacy, obtain job training, and get degrees are key elements in the effort to help low-income Americans get better jobs. Adult and basic education programs, bridge programs that connect teens and adults to college, workforce training programs, and supports for nontraditional students enrolled in colleges are needed to help hard-working Americans get higher-paying jobs. Many of these programs are under threat of budget cuts. Cuts in education and training are short-sighted cost-saving measures that reduce workforce readiness while also threatening one of the few pathways out of poverty for millions of Americans with limited literacy.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Messaging Social Security Takes Diverse Strategies

Kathryn Anne Edwards, Economic Policy Institute, on the panel at the NASI Conference. David Baldridge, International Association of Indigenous Aging, in background. Photo by Sam Kittner/ for NASI.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Last week was the 24th annual conference of the National Academy of Social Insurance held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. At a roundtable session on Friday, January 27, panelists discussed how to craft effective messaging on Social Security to reach different audiences—including young people, as well as those from diverse ethnic and racial groups.

Covering all American workers and their families, Social Security has an enormous reach. This accounts for the both the program’s success, as well as the difficulty in communicating its importance to all those who will likely receive Social Security benefits at some point.

Panelist Wilhelmina A. Leigh, Senior Research Associate on Economic Security with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, served as a member of the Commission to Modernize Social Security. She emphasized the importance of communicating that the program could be improved both to restore solvency and enhance benefits, which was a goal of the commission. The challenge of communicating Social Security is reaching those who have not yet had to apply for benefits. “People who have gotten the message about how the system works have generally had to use the system,” said Leigh.

Moderator, Thomas Bethell, Visiting Scholar with the National Academy of Social Insurance, reminded the audience that Social Security could be equated to a house that needs maintenance: “If your house needs maintenance, are you going to tear it down to fix it?”

David Baldridge spoke on the panel as Executive Director of the International Association of Indigenous Aging (IA 2), an organization that received NASI grant funding in order to conduct outreach and education on Social Security among Indian elders in New Mexico. Baldridge explained that it was imperative to get support from Indian elders in order to engage tribes living in more isolated communities and reservations.  Listening to and incorporating recommendations on Social Security from members of the community was also essential.

The effort proved to be a success, eventually leading to the buy-in of more than 500 tribes for the report that included formal recommendations based on the tribes’ own input. The process is intended to serve as a national model for engaging indigenous tribes across the country on these issues.

Valerie Rawlston Wilson, Vice President of Research and Economist with the National Urban League Policy Institute, faces several main challenges in communicating the importance of Social Security to the African American community: reaching a diverse audience, capturing people’s attention, simplifying a complex issue, and obtaining buy-in from local affiliate leaders.

To reach a younger audience, Wilson relies on social media and the Urban League’s “I am Empowered” campaign. The website for the campaign includes an easy-to-follow quiz to test users knowledge of the Social Security program. Leigh added that scenario-based exercises can help young adults think about ways that Social Security benefits could actually help them down the road, if they lost a job or a spouse.

Kathryn Anne Edwards, Research Assistant with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), also aims to reach young people with the message of preserving Social Security. In this case, she is reaching out to her peers. Edwards, who is in her twenties, wrote a textbook on Social Security directed to her own generation that defines Social Security, outlines its benefits, and offers a perspective in support of the program.

Edwards found young people might not understand why they need to support Social Security. They may feel helpless believing simply that the program will be gone by the time they retire. Her response is that it is a matter of responsibility and young people are not as forsaken as they perceive themselves to be. “If you are under 30, Social Security is yours to lose,” said Edwards.

As one of NASI’s grantees charged with conducting outreach and education on Social Security, IWPR is working to communicate the importance of the program. Our research has shown that reliance on the program increased among older Americans in the past decade and that it is widely supported across lines of gender, race/ethnicity, and political affiliation. IWPR continues to work closely with the National Council of Women’s Organizations to conduct outreach on the importance of Social Security to Americans, particularly vulnerable populations such as low-income seniors.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Top 5 Findings of 2011

Women with lightbulbsby Caroline Dobuzinskis, with Jocelyn Fischer and Rhiana Gunn-Wright.

In 2011, IWPR released several important findings on relevant topics such as the continuing impact of the recession, increased reliance on Social Security among older Americans, and the value of paid sick days for improving public health. Read the top findings below and continue to follow IWPR or sign up for our e-alerts to stay informed on our latest research on women, families, and communities.

1. During the recovery, men gained more jobs overall than women. Contrary to the image presented by a new, widely-panned sitcom, the recovery is not proving to be easier for female job seekers. Overall, men have regained one out of three jobs lost in the recession, while women regained one of every four jobs they lost. But the last quarter of 2011 saw women making some gains in the job market: men and women had equal job growth in the past three months at 206,000 jobs each.

2. Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and some cannot afford to put food on the table. Last September, IWPR released findings from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security showing that only 43 percent of women and 61 percent of men would have the savings to pay for living expenses for a period of two months. In households with more than one person who experienced unemployment for one month or longer in the two years prior to the survey, 27 percent of women and 20 percent of men went hungry because they could not afford food.

3. Americans strongly support Social Security and have grown increasingly reliant on the program in the last decade. A large majority of Americans (74 percent of all women and 69 percent of men in the IWPR/Rockefeller survey) say they  don’t mind paying Social Security taxes for the benefits they will receive when they retire. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent to equal half of older women in 2009.

4. The number of on-campus child care centers has declined and presently can only meet five percent of the child care needs of student parents. There are 3.9 million student parents pursuing postsecondary education in the United States, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults. Access to affordable, on-campus child care has decreased, partly due to the increase of for-profit postsecondary institutions.

5. Paid sick days would reduce emergency department visits–saving $1 billion in health care costs. Access to paid sick days would eliminate 1.3 million emergency department visits per year and would save $500 million to taxpayers through public health insurance costs because regular doctors’ office visits would substitute for expensive emergency room care. Informed by research from organizations such as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid sick days legislation gained significant momentum across the country last year.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Jocelyn Fischer is Assistant to the President and Rhiana Gunn-Wright is this year’s Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow.

One-on-One with Former IWPR Leadership in Democracy Fellow Intisar Al-Adhi

By Amanda Lo

Intisar Al-Adhi is a former Leadership in Democracy Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The competitive internship program was sponsored through an American university. Intisar assisted with IWPR’s Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA) project in the spring of 2009, helping to prepare for a SWMENA workshop in Lebanon. In an e-mail interview from Yemen, Intisar shared experiences as the founder of All Girls Society for Development, an organization that aims to educate and empower girls in her home country, as well as her views on how the Arab Spring has affected Yemeni women.


Intisar Al-Adhi with fellow staff at IWPR's office in Washington, DC.

IWPR: What has been your experiences and background with women’s issues?

Intisar Al-Adhi: I have been working with women in particular and young people since 2003 to plan and implement development programs of interest related to Yemeni women’s issues. We also advocate socially and politically for educational issues.

IWPR: I know that you founded an organization in Yemen to help girls. Could you tell me why you started it, and what is the organization’s goal and work?

Al-Adhi: I have a great interest and purpose in my life to be an effective leader in society and to do my best in women’s development and serve as an advocate for women’s issues. I had the opportunity to establish the All Girls Society for Development after receiving a diploma in Management of Non-Governmental Organizations. I am able to apply what I have studied to support development on the ground.

There is also a great need for Yemeni women in development and awareness programs to contribute to the development of personality of girls and increase girls’ self-confidence.

All Girls Society for Development aims to cultivate the personality of the Yemeni girl with a desire to empower her and enable her to play her role in society in the most effective manner. This is achieved through programs and activities designed according to the inner potential of the girl. We are interested in education, community development, and youth and awareness.

IWPR: What is All Girls Society for Development’s latest project?

Al-Adhi:  All Girls Society for Development in cooperation with the Responsive Governance Program (RGP) funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, Save the Children, and CHF International, [implemented] the “Back to School Campaign” from August to September 2011. The campaign includes many activities and events to raise social and community awareness about the importance of education in general and girls’ education in particular.

Image of building in Yemen with banner

A banner is displayed on a building in Yemen featuring the All Girls Society's "Back to School" campaign.

The “Back to School Campaign” outreach and awareness successes include:

[Producing] TV clips on girls’ education and support from important Yemeni figures, distributing 435 banners (shown in photo above) in 11 governorates, [being featured] in 38 radio programs on 12 local radio stations, and producing a TV program session.

IWPR: How has the Arab Spring affected women’s situation in Yemen? What kind of changes has happened?

Al-Adhi: The Arab Spring led to a large increase in awareness about women’s issues in Yemen that has not occurred for 20 years. Despite what is known about Yemeni society as a traditional community, meaning the majority adhere to established customs and traditions when dealing with women’s issues, the first result of this revolution is a shift in social awareness. We see a lot of men becoming more open-minded. Yemeni men did not find it problematic to encourage their wives and female relatives to go to [public] squares and participate in the demonstrations.

In the recent past, the role of women is beginning to emerge, regardless of the speed of its emergence or the quality. There are signs that women roles are changing. We see women currently leading and participating in the revolution. It is a sign of their ability to take high positions, which has enabled her to break the barrier that hinders equality with men in political life. I consider this as a good indicator that women will have the chance to take leadership positions in the future modern state of the Yemeni people.

Educated women have the most mature understanding of the revolution and are heavily involved in improving women’s situations in their respective fields. Doctors work in the field hospital, human rights activists and lawyers work on human rights violations, and political activists work to raise political awareness in tents and through daily lectures.

The Arab Spring has led to positive changes in Yemeni society. It has opened up the horizon and gave an area for ​​women to express her views. We have seen real participation of women in the revolution such as in the planning and implementation. There is a growing trend that men acknowledge the importance of women’s involvement in various aspects of life.

However, the Arab Spring also has its downfalls with respect to women’s plight. There are women who have lost their jobs because of the change in economic conditions and, as a result, their way of living has deteriorated. In addition, some families have lost their breadwinner due to violence in the demonstrations, such as being hurt by other demonstrators, the killing and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Furthermore, the fear and anxiety of possible violence, both armed violence or collective punishment such as the interruption of electricity, water, and the insecurity and instability caused by oil scarcity, have worsened their present living conditions.

IWPR: How has your experience at IWPR in Washington, DC, been relevant in helping your work in Yemen?

Al-Adhi: During my time at IWPR, I benefited from the working environment and from working with employees. It helped me identify effective communication methods in a team. I had a wonderful and useful meeting with Heidi [Hartmann, president of IWPR,] who responded to my questions with support and patience. I will not forget when she encouraged me to continue working. I liked the attention towards research and I took advantage of this kind of research that seeks to improve the lives of women. I also learned about the relationship between research organizations and the media. Lastly, I try to add the internship component in most of the projects for All Girls Society programs. I believe that internship experiences are essential in building the capacity of girls and youth.

Amanda Lo is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Small Steps Forward in Job Gains, But Not Enough to Close Gender Gap

road signs for recession and recoveryBy Caroline Hopper

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data, showing 65,000 of the 120,000 jobs gained last month went to women. While I welcome this news, I would like to take a step back and examine the full picture before celebrating. The numbers also show that 339,000 women have dropped out of the labor market and the gender job gap remains at 1.5 million jobs.

During what has been an extended recovery from the recent economic crisis, men have gained a significantly larger  number of jobs than women. Since October of 2009, when men and women showed similar total job numbers, men have gained over 1.5 million more jobs than women, according to IWPR. In fact, just in the past year, women have filled only 30 percent of the 1.6 million jobs added to payrolls.

Women Abandoned Job Market

As a college student during final exams week, these statistics leave me deflated. It’s hard to stay motivated during sleepless nights in the library, working towards a degree and a profession, with these numbers looming over my head. The outlook for anyone to find a job after college is not good and for me, as a woman, it may be even worse. Once in the job market, women also face a gender wage gap that can cut deeply into their lifetime earnings—leaving them behind in their retirement years.

I’m not alone in this discouragement. According to BLS data, from October to November, 339,000 women stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor market. Meanwhile, 23,000 men starting working or combing the classifieds for job postings. This could be a cause for some of the apparent improvement in unemployment rates (which fell for both women and men).

According to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, those who have abandoned the job market recently might be teachers or other employees who have been laid off from the public sector. IWPR research found that at the local level, between December 2008 and July 2011, the number of women in public sector employment  decreased by 4.7 percent while the number of men  decreased by only 1.6 percent. The majority of employees in the local public sector are elementary and secondary teachers.

Balancing Act for Women Has Gotten More Difficult

Another factor leading to these departures from the job market is the difficulty for women with obligations to care for children or for elderly parents to find a job that will accommodate their needs in a poor economy. For a woman, it is now even harder to try to do it all, balancing family and career.

According to an IWPR/Rockefeller Foundation survey released in October, women are less willing to move or accept a longer commute for a new job (54 percent of women would accept an increase in commuting time compared with 64 percent of men). Single mothers are much more willing to learn a new skill (85 percent) than to accept a job with lower pay (51 percent) or have a longer commute to work (55 percent).

So, while women did gain more jobs than men this month, these numbers are only one frame of an economy that is leaving many women unemployed—and possibly facing the expiration of their unemployment benefits. And, while job opportunities increased proportionally for women last month, it is also crucial to note that job growth remained quite slow for all. After all, the recovery should not be a competition between men and women. Rather, I hope that the recovery may lift our entire nation.

Caroline Hopper is a Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.