The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released its annual report on the Status of Women in the United States today and the results show that the disparities between men and women have not improved in most states. “It’s been popular to ask ‘Is feminism dead?'” posed Barbara Gault, IWPR’s director of research. “Let’s hope not, because we still have a long climb ahead.”
IWPR’s report grades each of the nation’s 50 states in terms of women’s overall status in five areas: political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, reproductive rights and health. The few bright spots included a drop in the percentage of women living in poverty in 42 states (the national average went from 13.7 percent to 12 percent) and a movement in 20 states to expand unemployment insurance to cover parental leave.
In addition, 19 states did pass laws between 1996 and 2002 that require that health insurance companies cover contraceptives – however, this victory is largely attributed to the fact that Viagra, the impotency pill for men, was covered instantly when it hit the market, noted Martha Burk, president of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Although the ratio between men and women’s earnings did grow in 25 states between 1989 and 1999, this increase is due largely to salary decreases for men. Heidi Hartmann, IWPR’s executive director, noted that there are only nine states in the US where the median income for women is $30,000 or more – while there is only one state where the median income for men is less than $30,000.
Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont all tied as the best state for women in 2002 while Mississippi came in last place. Hawaii, which in the past has been among the top ten, dropped out of contention – except in terms of reproductive rights where it was deemed valedictorian. Overall, reproductive rights have eroded across the US, tighter parental consent laws and longer waiting periods have made abortion services much harder to obtain, particularly for low-income women. In 18 states, less than one-half of the counties have abortion providers.
The Mountain states and Midwest states were found to be healthiest while women in the Southern states where deemed the least healthy. For example, the incidence of AIDS is 17 times higher in Florida than in Iowa, according to IWPR. In addition, while the overall average incidence rate of AIDS decreased from 9.4 per 100,000 to 8.7, between 1997 and 2000 – the incidence rate was found to be 20 times higher for African-American women as compared to Caucasian women.