Mother’s Day is on Sunday, and this annual celebration provides a great opportunity to highlight our recently launched California Women’s Well-Being Index. Created in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of California, the Women’s Well-Being Index is the first-ever comprehensive, composite measure of how women are faring across our state. This interactive online tool, which shows conditions for women across 30 indicators in every county in the state, should be the go-to resource for anyone passionate about creating communities where all women and their families can prosper. By highlighting disparities in women’s well-being overall and across five “dimensions” of well-being — Health, Personal Safety, Employment & Earnings, Economic Security, and Political Empowerment — the Index can help advocates, policymakers, funders, and other community leaders to advance policies that allow more women to thrive. Here are some notable findings that have emerged from the Index and point to the need for policies that improve women’s lives:
- Child care costs represent at least 45 percent of the typical single mother’s income in every county in the state. The yearly cost of child care for two children ranges from about 45 percent of single mothers’ median annual income in Sonoma County to almost 92 percent of the typical single mom’s income in Mendocino County. In other words, even in the “best” county, child care costs account for roughly half of median income for single mothers. These data highlight the critical need for greater state investment in subsidized child care and for other policy choices that put high-quality, affordable child care within more families’ reach.
- Fresno County ranks #1 in prenatal health care. Nearly 9 in 10 women in Fresno County received adequate prenatal care between 2011 and 2013 — well above the statewide average of 79 percent. This finding is a bright spot that emerged from the Index that could help uncover ways to improve prenatal care in other parts of the state, such as the 12 counties where less than 70 percent of women received adequate care.
- Sizeable racial and ethnic disparities in women’s economic standing persist. The median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers is nearly $54,000 for white women, compared to just over $30,000 for Latinas, around $36,000 for Native American women, and less than $45,000 for Pacific Islanders and black women. In addition, roughly half of white women in California work in managerial and professional occupations, compared to less than one-quarter of Latinas, only around 3 in 10 Native American and Pacific Islander women, and less than 4 in 10 black women. These significant disparities in earnings and occupations contribute to lower economic security for many women of color. For example, the typical Native American single mother in California would have to spend over three-quarters of her annual income to afford fair market rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment, leaving little left over for other basic expenses. For Latina and black single mothers, FMR would consume just under three-quarters of their income.
- El Dorado County has the highest rate of food insecurity among women even though the county ranks fourth for women’s well-being overall. Almost 6 in 10 El Dorado County women with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line are unable to afford enough food, compared to just over 4 in 10 women statewide. This is particularly notable given that El Dorado County has one of the lowest poverty rates in the state and ranks high on many of the other measures included in the Index. This fact shows that even in counties where conditions for women are generally very good, policies are needed to improve certain aspects of women’s well-being.
These are just a few examples of the important findings that have emerged from the California Women’s Well-Being Index. We encourage you to explore the Index and share what stands out for you by tweeting with the hashtag #CAWomenThrive. Highlighting the challenges that continue to face women throughout the state is the first step in developing policy changes that can improve women’s quality of life and create a stronger California for all of us.
— Alissa Anderson