So often the issues that affect women are considered “women’s issues” and outside of the conversations regarding economics, health care, education, etc. But “women’s issues” are everyone’s issues.
A community’s economic health is directly linked to the economic health of women in that community. In 2018, YWCA El Paso conducted a study on the economic status of women here to determine the barriers women face when trying to succeed economically.
According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey in 2016, the disparity in wages between women and men in El Paso was about $9,600. What does $9,600 mean to a woman? About 70 percent of El Paso women have less than an associate’s degree, and that amount could cover a year’s tuition at UTEP or three years of education at El Paso Community College.
In addition, 11 percent of respondents said they couldn’t afford to pay for childcare. That $9,600 could pay for a year of childcare for up to three children, making it easier for a mother to work more hours or go to school. The possibilities are endless. The study also found that 26 percent of families in El Paso have only a female head of household, a higher rate than both Texas and the U.S.
Reducing wage disparity would greatly benefit a large number of families in our community.
The information gained through the study does not just affect women on an individual level; it directly impacts our city’s wellbeing. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents believe they need to move out of El Paso to advance their career, with 62 percent of respondents in the lowest income bracket in agreement. Investing in women could reduce brain drain.
Communities throughout the world have discovered that investing in women creates change for the better. Such investment results in greater entrepreneurship, decreased poverty rates, healthier communities and stronger economies.
The study was designed to provide a platform from which a larger community conversation could take place – a conversation that is focused on improving the lives of women.
YWCA El Paso began as a workforce development program for women in 1909. That was a radical idea at the time. Creating a space for conversations about the financial health of women should not be a radical idea today.
The YWCA does not propose to have all the answers to the challenges that this study uncovered. It is our hope that as a community we can work together to find solutions. We are calling for the creation of a task force made up of private businesses, nonprofit organizations, community members and leaders, government agencies and elected officials that would work to improve the lives of women.
If women in El Paso are given the opportunity to improve their economic status, our entire community stands to win. Sounds like a sound investment to me.
The full study is online at ywcaelpaso.org.
Sylvia Acosta has been CEO of the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region since March 2017. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit management and a doctorate in educational leadership from NMSU.