Studies give Missouri 'C' grades for women's political involvement, work-family policies
Two new reports on women's political participation and representation and work-family supports for women are giving Missouri middling rankings.
The studies are part of a larger series by the nonprofit Institute for Women's Policy Research on the "Status of Women in the States."
Women and politics
The state gets a "C" when it comes to women's political involvement, though it ranks 11th among the states and Washington, D.C. Study director ArianeHegewisch said nationwide, women are "severely underrepresented" politically, making up only 20 percent of the seats in Congress, even though they account for 51 percent of the country's population. Women also are more likely to vote than men, Hegewisch said.
In this report, Missouri's score on women's political participation was boosted in part by the number of supportive resources available to women seeking political leadership roles.
"We looked at whether there's training for women for leadership positions in elected office, whether there are women's caucuses, how well women politicians and women's issues are supported by institutional structures, so Missouri actually ranks (number) one there," she said.
But Hegewisch said Missouri's top ranking in this area was off-set by the state's lower rates of women voting (54.6%) and the number of women in elected office (ranking 24th nationwide). That brought the state's overall grade down.
A separate report finds that as the number of working mothers has dramatically increased and more adults are caring for elderly family members, support for "workers with family caregiving responsibilities has been largely neglected."
Additionally, given that women are the primary or co-breadwinner for half of all families with kids and that women are more often the family caregivers, the study suggests that many women are having to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for family members.
In family-work issues, the study finds Missouri is falling short of providing supports for women who are family caregivers. But compared with other states, Missouri is at the middle of the pack - ranking 28th in the nation and garnering a C- grade.
Hegewisch said the Institute assessed several factors to determine its grade: whether workers have access to paid leave legislation to care for themselves or someone else or to have a baby; the availability of affordable and quality child care; whether supports for elder care are in place; and "the difference between mother's and father's likelihood to be in the workforce."
A primary issue in Missouri is a lack of paid leave legislation, Hegewisch said.
“Missouri really loses out because there’s no statutory right to paid leave: no paid sick days, no paid family leave, and temporary disability insurance is not available to all workers, which means you do not get it per right when you have a child for maternity leave," she said.
The study also developed a so-called child care index: a measure including the level of enrollment of children in publicly funded pre-K, Head Start and special education programs; the cost of infant care as a proportion of a woman's medial annual earnings; and the quality of child care available.
"(Child care is) a real problem at the outset of parenthood, and one that forces a lot of mothers to either move in and out of bad jobs because they have unreliable childcare, or acts as an incentive to take time out of work, which makes it much harder to come back afterwards at the same level," she said.
"Mothers suffer down the line with lower earnings, less career advancement, and then when they get to old age, they have lower pension savings to fall back on…so there's a long-term impact."
Missouri ranks 31st among states on the child care index. Though it has average costs and good quality for childcare, the state scores low for early education enrollment rates.
"Fewer than one in five four-year-olds in Missouri are enrolled in publicly funded pre-K, Head Start or special education, which is really very low," Hegewisch said. "Nationally, it is now 42 percent. It makes a huge difference in your ability to afford to work…so Missouri is not doing very well there."
The Institute also reports the state has a middling ranking (22nd) in infrastructure supports for elder care – which women mainly provide. While Missouri makes it easier to find lower cost long-term care for older family members, Hegewisch said the state does not allow the use of unemployment insurance for people who leave their jobs for caregiving reasons, nor can people claim tax credits for dependent care for elderly relatives.
But Missouri is doing better than the national average when it comes to what Hegewisch characterizes as "one of the basic indicators of gender inequality": the gender gap between parents of young kids by their participation in the labor force. The state ranks at 15th in the nation with a 23.7 percentage point gap between mothers and fathers working.
While more mothers are working and more fathers are helping with family care, the study finds that in general, mothers still do most of the "family work" while fathers do the "paid work."
"That difference in labor force participation does not mean we’re saying that all mothers should work, but, yes, families might decide that they want to provide some of the care for their children themselves and do not want to put them into (childcare), but that should be split evenly between mothers and fathers," she said.