Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mississippi: Worst State for Women?

Women’s work: Life and labor in Mississippi
by Natalie West Criss
Assistant Editor
Metro Business Chronicle
January, 2005

I have some good news and some bad news…first, the bad. According to the biannual report recently published by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, and much heralded by The Clarion- Ledger Mississippi has earned the dubious distinction of “Worse State for Women” for the fourth time in a row. The good news is that the findings of this report are nothing more than a skewed heap of statistical hooey aimed at pushing liberal policies and expanding government.

I know. I’m as surprised as many of you, especially since IWPR is a “scientific research organization” that “works with policy makers, scholars, and public interest groups…supported by foundation grants, government grants and contracts…” I suppose I could save us all time by ending this column here, but let’s take a closer look at the report instead.

If you are a stat wonk who wants to follow along (or simply an incurable insomniac), The Status of Women in the States is available for free online at http://www.iwpr.org/States%202004/PDFs/National.pdf.

Essentially, “The Status of Women in the States” is divided into five categories: Political Participation, Employment and Earnings, Social and Economic Autonomy, Reproductive Rights, and Health and Well-Being. Each category is divided into a subset of criteria, each of which is then subdivided according to ethnicity and then compared against the similar subset for white males. The results, which are meticulously charted, graphed and bulleted, give way to conclusions and recommendations, followed by a bevy of resources and appendices. This is 80+ pages of statistical spin disguised as hard, cold facts.

The skewed nature of the report is immediately obvious in the Overview Regarding Political Participation. Massachusetts, which tied for Best Overall in 2002, fell from 8th in political participation to 28th in 2004 “largely because it lost its woman governor,” IWPR explains. “While Massachusetts is in the top ten on the other four indices, its low rank for political participation excludes it from being one of the best states for women.” Likewise, New Hampshire’s decline in this category from 14th to 36th is attributed solely to the loss of its female governor.

Is it true that women fare better in states with women at the helm? Not necessarily. No mention is made of the fact that former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift, who was never elected in the first place and served less than two years, was Lt. Governor prior to Gov. Paul Cellucci’s resignation after which she then became the Governor. Did the status of women in Massachusetts improve dramatically during her short tenure? By default, did it decline proportionately because a man was elected in 2002? Of course not.

Statistics surrounding Employment and Earnings are equally off the mark. The report does not take into account Mississippi’s low cost of living, which is between 7-10% lower than the national average. Similarly, the value of employer-provided benefits enjoyed by thousands of Mississippi women, such as maternity insurance, maternity leave, on-site childcare and similar inclusions, are not factored into the equation.

Many extrapolations can and are accurately made within the IWPR’s report regarding the effects of education on earning and employability and, likewise, their effects on Social and Economic Autonomy, the consequences of exercising one’s Reproductive Rights and the results of those choices on one’s Health and Well-Being. Mississippi certainly can improve its standing in many areas. However, the concept of personal accountability and the role of the individual as a solution to the myriad of problems is not mentioned once in this report.

Granted, statistics are not nearly as consistent or powerful when free will enters the equation. However, since the heads we are counting belong to human beings, shouldn’t we take the inevitable existence of exceptions into account? Not if you accept the conclusions and recommendations issued by IWPR.

IWPR asserts that individuals, especially women and specifically women of color, need government expansion to help them realize their potential. Of course, the report does not say this outright, but it is apparent in its proposed “policies and programs designed to diminish both gender- and race-based inequities” and blatant in its assumption that only women can effectively enact policies beneficial to women, therefore, encouraging them to run for office and implement the necessary changes through government channels.

Governments should, according to IWPR, enact new, and enforce existing, legislation aimed at boosting the earning potential of women by increasing state and federal minimum wages, passing living-wage laws, and tying minimum wages to cost-of-living increases aimed at “setting a reasonable wage floor [that] disproportionately benefits women workers—particularly women of color” (italics mine). How exactly does this create or encourage an environment of equality?

Through federal and state policy mandates, IWPR believes employers should be required to provide paid parental and dependent care leave and expand benefits to include mandatory unemployment insurance funds and extended family care benefits. How would companies profit, produce, employ and otherwise survive under conditions in which the government determines its offerings to potential workers?

Additionally, larger companies would be subjected to broadened affirmative action programs and audited to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination law. Why should a company remain in the state of Mississippi, or the United States for that matter, when it is subject to governmental interference and its employees are legally entitled to the bulk of its revenues?

Furthermore, IWPR asserts, governments should increase funding to public health programs and include “sensitivity training” for doctors with the purpose of encouraging minority women to seek medical attention more often. Educational opportunities should be promoted through affirmative action programs and more funding for state and federal scholarships and financial aid. Welfare programs should be expanded to include higher education and training opportunities while continuing to provide for low wage earners and the chronically disabled. Additionally, IWPR calls for even more state and federal investment in Native American colleges and technological training for K-12 and vocational schools and substantially more funding for women-owned businesses.

Throughout “The Status of Women in the States”, three words are repeated like a mantra: encourage, invest and expand. Encourage how? Through force of regulation, how else? Invest what? Why, your taxes, of course. Expand where? Directly into the path of your freedom. If IWPR has its way, soon we will all be equally taxed, equally controlled and equally miserable.

Is Mississippi the worst state for women? Not yet.

Unless otherwise cited, all original articles appearing on this blog are property of Natalie West Criss ( Business Ink, Inc. and Metro Business Chronicle). To submit requests for publication, contact natalie@metrochronicle.com.

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