Henningsen: Who Benefits?

Apr 25, 2016

At a time when we’re increasingly concerned with economic inequality, Vermonters might want to consider the difficulties faced by 51% of our state’s population – women and girls. 

A recent report on Women, Work, and Wages in Vermont, issued by Burlington-based Change the Story, reveals that women of all ages constitute a larger percentage of Vermont’s low-wage workers than men, despite having achieved a higher level of education than their male counterparts. Median annual income for women working full-time is $37,000 - $7,000 less than that of men. That averages out to a wage gap of sixteen cents on every dollar.

That’s seven months rent for a single person, six months of childcare, or six months of grocery bills.

And the gap is across the board:  those in high-end jobs like corporate executives earn only two-thirds of what men do; female nurses and medical technicians earn 17% less than males, despite comprising over 80% of those so employed.

Vermont women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Of those working full-time, 43% don’t earn enough to cover basic living expenses. The poverty rate of families headed by single women is nine times that of married couples. And, in their senior years, Vermont women’s median annual income from Social Security is half that of men.

These facts should force us to look beyond the mere existence of economic inequality to understand just how much of it is gender-based. And we should consider how much of a burden this places on state subsidies and benefits funded by Vermont taxpayers, a burden likely to grow unless something changes. 

We should demand that legislators and state officials pay attention to gender when considering legislation or framing and implementing policy. They could begin by asking one simple question:  Who benefits? 

For example, economic development projects should provide opportunities for women as well as men and workforce development investment should be gender sensitive. In fact, all decisions about state policies and programs should be considered in the light of gender. 

Happily, at a time when economic inequality is the focus of national attention, Vermonters can actually do something about it, right here at home.