Report finds working women still in the 1970s in Vermont

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Office and administrative support work barely pays enough to cover the basic needs of a single person, according to a recent report. And women dominate the field. Wikimedia Commons photo

Women in Vermont still tend to choose the same traditionally female professions — such as teaching and nursing — that they did in the 1970s, despite their greatly increased opportunities. And that may cost them and their families, according to a recent report, because female-dominated fields pay less.

“Where Vermont Women Work … and Why It Matters” is the second brief produced by Change The Story, a statewide initiative of the Vermont Commission on Women, the Vermont Women’s Fund and Vermont Works for Women.

The brief is based on a study of occupational segregation and wage disparity between genders in Vermont.

Nationally, women make 79 cents to a man’s dollar in the same occupation, according to the report. Vermont women earn 84 percent of what men do.

But the issue isn’t just about not getting paid the same amount for the same job. Another, more culturally systemic phenomenon exists, and that is that women gravitate toward fields that historically pay lower wages.

“Women are clustered in the same occupations today as they were back in 1970,” said Cary Brown, of the Vermont Commission on Women. “We still have cultural ideas about what are appropriate jobs for women and what are appropriate jobs for men.”

Women Graphic 1

Women are still entering what have been considered female professions — including office administration and food service — at a higher rate than men and are continuing to avoid what have been known as traditionally male fields, such as computers and math, construction, engineering and law enforcement, according to the report.

In 1972, the federal government enacted Title IX, a civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on gender in education. It was an attempt to increase opportunities for girls in athletics, higher education and eventually employment. At that time, nearly 40 percent of the labor force was female; by 2013, this figure had risen to more than 65 percent, the report says.

While some professions have an almost equal number of women and men, such as medicine and law, nearly half of all full-time working women are in traditionally female occupations.

“Breaking out of those stereotypes is very difficult and takes a lot of time to get over these ingrained ideas about the jobs men and women do,” Brown said.

There has been some small change, Brown added. About 15 percent of engineers are women now, but in 1970 there were none in Vermont.

Gender segregation in employment is having an impact on Vermont’s economy because women contribute at least 40 percent of the income in a third of Vermont families, according to the report.

Women are not making enough to support themselves or their children, it says. Two out of five occupations in which women are at least 70 percent of all workers pay less than $33,419. The Joint Fiscal Office has determined that is the minimum salary a person needs to cover basic expenses in Vermont.

A single parent with one child needs to make $55,760 to stay afloat, according to the Joint Fiscal Office. Roughly 16,595 single mothers with dependent children live in Vermont, according to Brown, who came up with the figure by using a five-year average from 2009 to 2013 of the number of women age 25 to 64 with dependent children who were either divorced or never married.

Nearly a third of these women live in poverty even though they work full time, according to Vermont Works for Women.

In Vermont, only one occupation dominated by women pays at least $55,760: health diagnostician.

Women Graphic 2

Brown called this striking. “That is why they need to look at the male-dominated professions. It is especially true for the women who find themselves on the margins economically. If they want to support themselves and their families, it would benefit them to look outside the narrow ideas of what women and men can do.”

The fastest-growing jobs in Vermont are personal care aide and cashier; both typically pay less than $12 an hour, and both fields are dominated by women. Trade-related fields that pay a living wage are also expected to grow in Vermont, and that is why it is important to steer more young women into education paths that will drive them into these jobs, according to the report.

“When we look at the education that young women are choosing, the apprenticeships, the college majors, we are not seeing the potential for a change in these patterns without taking some concrete steps,” said Brown.

That is why the report ends with a series of questions — for parents, educators and lawmakers — to help Vermonters reflect on what they are doing or could be doing to change the status quo and help steer young women toward more economically secure futures.

Tiffany Danitz Pache

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