By Christine Sadowski
YWCA Orange County
I sometimes find it hard to believe that American women earned the right to vote less than 100 years ago with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. It may seem as if we have come such a very long way in those ensuing 94 years - there is no denying that women have had some remarkable accomplishments since the suffragette movement started right here in New York State. However, as another National Women’s History month comes to a close, I think it’s critical that we not lose sight as to how much work remains to be done to truly bring gender equity to our nation, state, and county.
As a social justice organization committed to eliminating racism and empowering women, YWCA Orange County recently completed a report which took a long, hard look at the reality of the economic factors that have a real, and frequently debilitating, impact on the women who live and work in our community. Nearly 20% of single mothers in Orange County struggle to provide for their families with household incomes at or below the federal poverty line, and female-headed households are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than other families. Annual income for a family of three, the average size of an Orange County family, living at the poverty level is only $19,536 or $1,627.50 per month. With the rent for a two bedroom apartment averaging $1,200/month in Orange County that leaves slightly more than $400 per month remaining for that family of three to spend on the basic necessities of life - food, clothing, medical, insurance, utilities, and other expenses, both planned and unplanned.
The average income for a female wage earner in Orange County is $44,717 while her male counterpart makes $57,622 per year. Earning only 77.6% of the man’s salary leaves a single working mother at a $12,905 per year disadvantage, $1,000 less per month, to support her family than her male co-worker.
YWCA Orange County, along with numerous organizations throughout New York State, worked hard last year to pass the Women’s Equality Agenda (WEA), which included proposals to address many of the core reasons for this wage disparity and other discrimination against women, so that they may raise themselves and their families out of poverty. Unfortunately, WEA was not passed, leaving much work still to be done as we strive toward making gender equity a reality.
YWCA Orange County believes that women and their families deserve the opportunity to be economically secure. The path to equity is two-pronged - first - systemic inequality must change. Discrimination, double-standards, legislation, and outdated workplace policies must undergo vital updates. Secondly - women must equip themselves with the necessary tools and techniques to combat the inequalities head on and find economic success despite the odds. Today, women workers comprise half the workforce in Orange County, more and more families are headed by women, and women make the majority of all purchasing decisions - yet they remain at an economic disadvantage.
YWCA Orange County is committed to bringing balance to that inequity. We work with businesses, legislators, community agencies, and individual women to help our community, and the women who live here move toward equality, economic stability, and independence. The Women’s Equality Agenda would help raise hardworking women out of poverty by creating fair laws. Our elected officials need to know that it’s time to upgrade NYS laws and make New York a national leader for gender equality once again.