More on the White House Council Report

Two weeks ago the White House Council on Women and Girls released a report titled “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being” (available by clicking here )the most comprehensive report on the state of women in the United States since the Kennedy administration. The report uses data collected from a wide variety of government agencies and paints a picture of women in five focus areas: People, Families and Income; Education; Employment; Health; and Crime and Violence. The results were mixed–some good news, some bad.

First, the good news: We’ve seen positive changes with respect to education, employment and violence against women.

Women ages 25-34 are now more likely than their male peers to have attained a college degree, which is a reversal of the norm 40 years ago. They are also attending graduate school in greater numbers–11 percent of women compared to 8 percent of men. Overall, women have outpaced men in educational attainment over the past 40 years.

Unemployment rates for women have risen less than for men in the most recent periods of recession, and women’s labor force participation rate has held steady around 61% since 1997.

Between 1993 and 2008, homicides and nonfatal violent crimes committed against women both declined. Additionally, nonfatal attacks on women by intimate partners declined between 1994 and 2008.

The picture isn’t quite as rosy as we might hope based on that news though. Women may be making great gains in education, and while we know that education increases earnings for both women and men, it doesn’t translate to a closing of the pay gap. More women than men work part time, and occupational segregation persists. Women are also still working a “second shift”–in households with employed husbands and wives, women spent an average of 2.6 hours on household activities and caring for family members, while men spent about 1.6 hours on the same activities. Female headed families also had the lowest earnings among all family types, and the poverty rate for female householders with children under 18 years of age is still nearly three times as high as the overall male and female poverty rates.

Women’s health is also worse than men’s–more women than men report having chronic medical conditions, and more females over the age of 12 report experiencing depression than their male counterparts. Additionally, more than one third of women age 20 and older are obese.

With respect to crime and violence, women are a small but growing share of individuals arrested for violent crimes other than homicide, and the imprisonment rate for females has increased significantly since 1985. On the other side of the equation, women face a greater threat of stalking victimization.

There was also one slightly misleading statistic included in the crime and violence portion of the report as well. According to the data, reported rapes declined during the ’90s and have remained stable since then, hovering around 1 per 1,000 females aged 12 and over. However, in the notes, the authors write “Other government studies that asked more detailed questions specifically about sexual assault have found higher rates of victimization.” Similarly, it is also worth noting that 54 percent of women surveyed who reported being raped did not notify the police. The culture of silence around sexual assault is truly pervasive. If someone had their wallet or their purse stolen, they would report it to the police, but when women have their dignity stolen they blame themselves–and others place the blame on them as well. True change will happen when rape is viewed by the public like the crime it is, rather than a private, personal problem.

We’ve made progress in important areas, but as the numbers show, we’ve still got a long way to go.

(Thanks to Erica O’Neill for researching and writing this post)

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