Kentucky gets a D+ and ranks behind two-thirds of other states in terms of women’s status, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress. The detailed report card breaks down indicators of women’s well-being in the areas of economic security, health and leadership. It also points to key policies and priorities that would benefit women, their families and Kentucky’s economy at large.
Economic Security (grade D)
- For every dollar that a white man makes in Kentucky, women make 76 cents (the national wage gap is one cent narrower). With many women as sole- or joint-breadwinners in their households, suppressed earnings have tangible effects on families’ ability to make ends meet.
- 20.9 percent of women and girls in Kentucky live in poverty, giving our state the fifth highest poverty rate for women in the nation. Even worse, 38.6 percent of African American women in Kentucky live in poverty.
State and federal policy changes could lift the economic status of women. The 2013 Fair Minimum Wage Act—which proposes to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour—would especially benefit women since more than half (56.5 percent) of the Kentucky workers affected are women. Likewise, while few states mandate paid family, disability and sick leave, enacting such policies in Kentucky would allow all workers but particularly women to deal with major personal and family occurrences without risking economic insecurity. Access to high-quality, affordable childcare also directly impacts women’s economic security and their children’s success. On the other hand, cuts to programs like Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance harm women’s ability to obtain and hold jobs that provide family-sustaining wages.
Health (grade C+)
- 16.2 percent of nonelderly women in Kentucky do not have health insurance.
- TRAP laws (Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers) regulate women’s health centers to the point of forcing their closure, limiting women’s constitutionally mandated access to safe, legal abortion.
- There is one OB-GYN for every 4,095 women in Kentucky (better than four out of five states).
- There are 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 infants born in Kentucky (worse than three out of five states).
While many low-income pregnant women in Kentucky are eligible for Medicaid during pregnancy and for two months after, research shows that women who have health insurance prior to and between pregnancies are healthier during pregnancy, and so are their babies. Kentucky is already taking a significant step towards better health—and therefore better economic security—for women with and without children by expanding Medicaid.
Leadership (grade F)
- Kentucky ranks 48th in the nation in terms of women’s representation in leadership roles. None of our US congressional seats, only 12.5 percent of statewide elected executive seats, and 18.1 percent of seats in our state legislature are held by women.
- None of the aforementioned seats are held by minority women.
- Women make up about 52 percent of Kentucky’s population, but hold just over 38 percent of management positions.
While women are not legally barred from elected office or management positions, institutional and cultural sexism—as well as the economic and health factors explored in the report—limit women’s ability to climb the ladder.
Kentucky has progress to make in improving the status of women. Poor economic security, limited access to the kinds of care that women need and underrepresentation in leadership roles comprise a vicious cycle that keeps women from greater well-being. But good policies can help transform a vicious into a virtuous cycle that benefits women and our state.