A Blueprint for Investing in Vulnerable Young Girls

A study released last month in the journal Science found that by age six, girls are already less likely to see themselves and other girls and women to be as brilliant and capable as boys. While this applied to girls regardless of race and income, a report released in November by The New York Women’s Foundation highlights the particular challenges faced by low-income girls, particularly immigrant girls and girls of color, and the critical need to support their mothers and caretakers in order to promote their progress.

New York City is home to 450,000 girls under the age of eight. Fully three-quarters live in communities of color or immigrant communities. As many as 40% live in poverty.

These girls clearly embody the vibrant, diverse future of our city. Last fall, every poster announcing New York’s new universal pre-K program prominently displayed at least one of those little girls’ shining faces, inspiring deep feelings of warmth and protectiveness.

The problem is that tender feelings and a single additional year of schooling are far from sufficient to meet these girls’ needs. The first eight years of a child’s life comprise a period of both unique vulnerability and unparalleled cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. Ensuring solid health and progress for low-income girls thus requires ensuring that they receive strong, consistent nurturance from well-supported and well-prepared adults – 24/7 – across all those critical years of learning and growth.

And that is where we run into trouble.

Our report, Blueprint for Investing in Girls Age 0-8 from The New York Women’s Foundation,  clearly shows that our society has remained stubbornly resistant to adopting measures that would ensure fair protection, just compensation, adequate support, and strong preparation to the low-income women of color who are raising these girls.

Here are the facts:

–Low-income mothers have highly-limited access to the basic guidance, reassurance, and respite that all mothers need to be effective nurturers and first teachers. While mothers of means can typically avail themselves of an array of supports – from culturally-appropriate parenting groups to knowledgeable nannies to classes explaining just how to boost a child’s reading skills – there exist no comparably- and consistently-accessible resources for all the low-income mothers whose core childrearing challenges are inevitably further exacerbated by the tolls of poverty.

–Low-income women of color are overwhelmingly both the main (or sole) wage earners and the main (or sole) caregivers for their families. They are concurrently responsible for paying their families’ core bills, providing or arranging for their children’s round-the-clock care, and serving as the backbone of our city’s low-wage workforce. Yet, New York City currently provides only some 36,000 slots of direct, subsidized childcare to cover the needs of the hundreds of thousands of working mothers who cannot possibly afford market-rate care. And even the families that qualify for the subsidy often find the slots to be geographically inaccessible, financially unaffordable, or unavailable at the moment that they need them.

–The (predominantly non-white, female) workers who staff the city’s subsidized childcare programs earn salaries that put them barely over the poverty line themselves. And the even larger cadre of informal caregivers employed by most working mothers have only limited access to the ongoing training, support, feedback, and supervision that their vitally-important work merits – and requires.

–The service and retail jobs that low-wage working women overwhelmingly hold are typically characterized by minimal pay scales, erratic hours, and total lack of flexibility. Low-wage working mothers therefore not only battle to simultaneously meet their families’ caregiving and economic needs – they struggle fiercely to dovetail those childcare arrangements to the sudden fluctuations of their working hours and to ensure that someone is on hand to handle the emergencies that can arise in any family.

Fortunately, the situation is not completely grim. Across the city, a range of sterling efforts are leading the way to improvement on all those critical fronts.

Read the full article in the Gotham Gazette.

There Are More Girls Living in Poverty Today Than in 2007

There are more girls in the U.S. living in poverty and low-income households now than were ten years ago, according to a new report released exclusively to Motto by the Girl Scout Research Institute. The report, titled the State of Girls, examines key changes in the economic, educational, physiological and psychological well-being of American girls since the Great Recession.

Today, 41% of girls live in low-income households, up from 38% in 2007. The percentage of girls living in households of poverty increased from 17% in 2007 to 20% in 2014. (A child is considered low income if her family income is less than twice the poverty threshold.) Girls of color are disproportionately affected: In 2014, black girls were the most likely to live in poverty (35%), closely followed by Latina and American Indian girls (31% each). Multiracial girls were 20% likely, Asian-American girls were 14% and white girls were least likely to live in poverty, with only 12%. These numbers are particularly concerning, because girls living in low-income households are more likely to face additional challenges across all areas of well-being.

“These are things we have known about for a while, but we don’t talk about them,” said Kamla Modi, Senior Researcher for Thought Leadership at the institute. “This report really helps us talk about them.”

The institute has been developing reports like this one for the past five years in order to adjust Girls Scouts programming to suit the needs of American girls, Modi said. The State of Girls report utilizes data compiled by government resources such as the United States Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Education Statistics.

“What we do is take the data on girls [only], pull it together, summarize it and talk about it, because otherwise this data is looked at for youth in general,” Modi said. “We know boys and girls are so different on a variety of indicators.” By breaking down the statistics even further to isolate girls of specific races, ethnicities, and sexual identities and orientations, researchers are able to get a much clearer picture.

Read the full article in Motto.

US News and World Report: White House Report Focuses on Challenges Faced by Women and Girls of Color 

The third annual report shows more work needs to be done to address structural disadvantages in school and at work.

First lady Michelle Obama hosted the stars and director of the new film “Hidden Figures” at the White House on Thursday, encouraging women and girls to take inspiration from a decades-old story of achievement in the face of discrimination and sexism that, despite the progress of the past half-century, not entirely relegated to the past.

Reflecting on the waning days of her husband’s administration, the first lady used the opportunity to offer her own spin on American exceptionalism, as demonstrated by the film’s dramatization of the true story of three African-American women working at NASA whose math skills helped launch the first manned American spaceflight.

“What we saw in this film is that when we pull together men and women, people of every background and color and faith, immigrants who’ve come here from across the globe to make America their home – when we bring all of that brainpower to the table, anything is possible, even going to the moon, right?” she said. “That is how America won the space race in the 1960s and, as I said, that approach is just as important today.”

The first lady’s comments, in the light of the incoming Trump administration, were a plea for private partners and nonprofit groups to continue press forward on efforts launched by the Obama administration to focus on the lifting marginalized groups, in particular the White House Council on Women and Girls, established shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009.

The morning following the film screening, at a less star-studded event at the Executive Office Building next to the White House, the council released its third annual report – “Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color” – detailing the unique challenges women and girls of color face in school and in the workforce, part of a targeted effort to address the structural disadvantages that keep them persistently behind their white and male peers.

The report, and the multi-year initiative, focused on five objectives: reducing teen pregnancy; encouraging success in school; making science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – education more inclusive; opening avenues to economic prosperity; and reducing the risk factors for vulnerable girls.

“We have made significant progress across these five objectives … but are aware that there is still work to that needs to happen in the years to come to strengthen the voices and capacities of women and girls of color and their peers,” the report said.

Amid the lists of programs launched and grant funds disbursed was the recognition that the obstacles facing women and girls of color remain stubbornly in place.

Students of color remain targeted at significantly higher rates for discipline and punishments meted out are often harsher.

Compared to their white peers, data collected by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black boys were three times as likely as the overall student population to be suspended during the 2013-2014 school year. Black girls were five times as likely as white girls to receive out-of-school suspensions.

“The data show clear racial disparities in school discipline; while 6 percent of all K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions, the percent is 18 percent for black boys; 10 percent for black girls,” the report notes.

African-American girls make up more than half of girls suspended in preschool, even though they comprise less than half the female preschool enrollment.

White House Report: Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color

Download the full report.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the White House Council on Women and Girlsreleased a report and will host a forum on the Administration’s work to advance equity for women and girls of color and highlight the innovative solutions and exciting place-based work that is happening throughout the country.  The forum will bring together a range of stakeholders from the academic, private, government and philanthropic sectors to discuss ways that we can break down barriers to success and create more ladders of opportunity for all Americans, including women and girls of color.  The event will be livestreamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live and the full report is available HERE.

The Council on Women and Girls, since its inception, has focused on the needs and challenges of all women and girls. In 2014, as part of the effort to take into account the distinctive concerns of women and girls, the Council on Women and Girls launched a specific work stream called “Advancing Equity” to ensure that policies and programs across the federal government take into account the unique obstacles faced by women and girls, including women and girls of color and women and girls from marginalized communities.

In November 2014, the Council on Women and Girls released a report titled “Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunities” to identify barriers and disparities facing women and girls of color. This report addressed work done over the first six years of the Administration to improve the lives of women and girls of color. It discussed important issues, such as educational attainment, economic security, health and safety, violence against women, and criminal and juvenile justice. It also included a call to action for the establishment of a federal interagency working group to develop opportunities for advancement, which commenced in March of 2015.

One year later, in November 2015, the Council released a new report “Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color” to highlight some of the additional steps taken by the Administration on issues faced by women and girls of color from 2014 through 2015. In that report, the Council on Women and Girls identified five data-driven issue areas where interventions can promote opportunities for success at school, work, and in the community for women and girls of color. The five issues included:

  1. Fostering school success and reducing unnecessary exclusionary school discipline by implementing supportive school discipline strategies and policies, including through public awareness of the impact on girls of color;
  2. Meeting the needs of vulnerable and striving youth by recognizing and responding appropriately to the finding that many girls enter intervening public systems through a route that begins with sexual abuse and trauma;
  3. Increasing access to inclusive STEM education to meet 21st century workforce demands and reducing opportunity gaps that affect women broadly in science, technology, engineering and math education and fields, but often affect women and girls of color the most;
  4. Sustaining reduced rates of teen pregnancy and building on successthrough expanded access to knowledge about birth control and preventive health services;
  5. Expanding pathways to economic prosperity through opportunities for job mobility and investments in fair, equitable workplace policies.

This updated report serves as a follow-up to the 2014 and 2015 reports, and as the culmination of the Advancing Equity work stream of this Administration. The Obama Administration has taken important steps forward in elevating, and addressing, key issues that cause disparities for women and girls of color, and women and girls from marginalized and underserved populations. Moreover, the call to action around this work has inspired philanthropic leaders, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations to continue efforts that sustain and build upon the successes achieved in improved life outcomes for women and girls of color and their peers.

IWPF Releases 2015 Gender Pay Gap Report

“The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 79.6 percent for full-time/year-round workers in 2015. This means the gender wage gap for full-time/year-round workers is 20.4 percent.

The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings did not improve significantly during the last year, and has not seen a statistically significant annual increase since 2007.

If the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio continues at the same rate as it has since 1960, it will take another 45 years, until 2059, for men and women to reach parity.

Women’s median annual earnings in 2015 were $40,742 compared with $51,212 for men; both women’s and men’s full-time year-round earnings increased significantly between 2014 and 2015 (by 2.7 and 1.5 percent respectively).”

Download the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s full report.


State Funds Target Gender-Based Disparities

An event titled “Legislative Session Wrap-Up: Gender-Equity Style” was held at the State Capitol Building in St. Paul July 13. Moderating was Kabo Yang of Minnesota Women’s Consortium. One of the speakers at this discussion was Representative Rena Moran.

Moran represents District 65A, one of three Black legislators and the only Black woman legislator. Moran spoke about the Women of Color Opportunities Act and stressed the importance of legislation aimed at supporting women and girls of color.

“We know that women of color in Minnesota are strong, resilient, and dedicated to their families,” said Moran. “They are an essential part to the Minnesota economic and social fabric. They are also robust participants in the labor force.”

She proceeded with some data: “75 percent of African American mothers are in the labor force… African American women own almost half of all African American-owned businesses, yet African American women are only earning 62 cents to every dollar a White male earns.”

She continued, “The median earnings for African American women in Minnesota declined about 14 percent from 2013 to 2014. Over 64 percent of Minnesota’s African American female heads of households with young children live in poverty.”

Read the full piece on the Minnesota-Spokesman Recorder.

Stand Up For Women And Girls Of Color

“Our country is not just all about the Benjamins – it’s about the Tubmans, too.”

President Obama uttered these words at the United State of Women Summit, calling to mind the thousands of women who have shaped our history in incredible ways.

As attendees of the Summit, we were delighted to hear these words, because we also took them as a reminder that we must do more to tackle the disparities that persist for women and girls of color.

Nowhere is this problem more clearly seen than here in Washington, DC – a city of great inequalities. While our region is home to some of the wealthiest and most educated people in the world, one in four women and girls here are living at or near the poverty line. And 16 percent of African-American women, and 14 percent of Latinas are more likely to live below the poverty threshold – compared with only 6 percent of white women.

At a pivotal moment when women’s educational attainment increasingly outpaces men’s, and their earning potential continues to grow, too many women and girls of color in our region lack access to the cornerstones of economic opportunity: affordable child care, workforce training for sustainable careers, and education about asset and wealth-building.

We know that however, when women and girls are given the opportunities and resources they need the impact is transformative. “Marie” is a perfect example. Growing up east of the Anacostia River in the 1990’s, she dropped out of school in the 9th grade because she was told she’d have to repeat a year. With so little formal education, she soon found herself homeless, abusing drugs and alcohol, and in an abusive relationship. Over the years, a little voice kept telling her that she had to make a change for the better, but life kept getting in the way.  Finally, at the recommendation of a friend, Marie learned that she could get the help she needed for free at the YWCA.  She enrolled in the YWCA’s education and workforce program in 2014.  Just a year later, Marie had completed her GED, received her professional certification for customer service and sales, and started interviewing for living-wage jobs that would put her on a career pathway for success.

Read the full piece in the Weekly Challenger.

Women of Color Disproportionately Hurt by Wall Street

Report highlights how financial industry targets women of color,
transferring their wealth & reinforcing inequality.

A new report explains how women, and especially women of color, are disproportionately hurt by Wall Street.

“Pinklining: How Wall Street’s Predatory Products Pillage Women’s Wealth, Opportunities & Futures,” details how sexism and racism are “increasingly exploited and exacerbated by Wall Street and the financial sector.”

The report, which was written by scholar Suparna Bhaskaran, shows how “Wall Street takes advantage of women’s precarious economic position and marginalization to push them deeper into debt,” in a practice Bhaskaran calls “pinklining.”

Structural sexism and structural racism make women and people of color more susceptible to pinklining, the report stresses.

It looks at three primary financial practices in which these inequalities are visible: subprime home mortgage lending, payday lending and higher education lending.

Subprime mortgages
Subprime home mortgage lending increased from $35 billion in 1994 to an enormous $600 billion in 2006.

At the peak of subprime lending, in 2005, women were 30 to 46 percent more likely to receive subprime mortgage loans than men. Black women were a staggering 256 percent more likely to receive subprime loans than white men.

Wells Fargo was a particularly egregious example. It targeted black and Latina/o Americans with subprime loans, leading to a $175 million settlement with the Department of Justice in 2012.

The bank forced high-interest subprime mortgages on black households five times more than it did on their white equivalents. Wells Fargo employees also called black Americans “mud people,” and referred to subprime loans as “ghetto loans.”

Read the full article in Salon.

How Do We Make It Up?

Just ahead of last weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a gathering of another sort took place. Women from around the country came together at the Library of Congress to commemorate the launch of the Black Women and Girls Caucus, the first caucus to discuss the issues affecting black women and girls on a congressional stage. At the launch event, Melissa Harris-Perry, Black Girls Rock! creator Beverly Bond, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman were on hand to discuss what this caucus means and how our country has steadfastly failed black women and girls.

What do you hope to get out of the Black Women and Girls Caucus?
Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman: With the caucus, the three of us [herself and congresswomen Yvette Clarke and Robin Kelly] hope that we have elevated the discussion on the barriers, opportunities, areas in which we’re doing well, and areas in which we are being omitted in the discussion of public policy to help with the experience of black women and girls. We hope to be able to share information that we’re gathering, report out what’s happening, and at some point be able to make recommendations that are either executive or legislative actions.

Melissa Harris-Perry: I hope it’s an opportunity to testify to the work we’ve been doing in organizations and academic spaces. We’re trying to really highlight the lives of black women and girls. I hope I can bring some of my expertise and contribute it to the public record.

How do you think we’re failing our black girls?
Beverly Bond: There’s a lot of harm happening through media, and it’s not just the TV — it’s the radio, it’s the lyrics, it’s the internet. These kids are caught up in gossip and consumerism, rather than being innovators. If we want to change the message, we have to change the messenger. I don’t have all the answers, but I think there’s definitely something we can do.

I’ve seen from Black Girls Rock! how this can affect so many girls, and boys, too. You can’t come up in a world where you’re automatically dismissed. You might not have studied racism and clinical depression, but you know that that little boy doesn’t like you because of the color of your skin and the texture of your hair. That does so much damage. Black Girls Rock! has done so much to change that. Not just young girls’ minds, to affirm themselves, but young boys’ minds to say, Wow, black girls rock.

BWC: Women and girls have not been the center of discussion. I’m seeing that the impact that girls and young women have on their children of the next generation, it’s something that needs to get drilled down on. This is an opportunity to bring to light the vacuum of discussion that has taken place as it relates to black women.

Read the full interview in New York Magazine.

Melissa Harris-Perry: How Our Country Fails Black Girls

The following was delivered before the
Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girl.

“I hold a professorship named for one of the most extraordinary Americans to live in the twentieth century. Born in 1928, Maya Angelou experienced childhood poverty and dislocation. She was raped by an adult man when she only seven years old. The brutality and unresolved trauma resulting from that early sexual violence stole her voice and shaped her young adulthood. Eventually she became an unwed teen mother. More than three generations after Maya’s childhood, poverty, familial disruption, sexual violence, interrupted education, and teen pregnancy remain key barriers facing black girls in America’s cities, towns, and rural communities.

 Maya Angelou’s story does not end with her struggles; it only begins there. She was guided out of silence by the loving hand of an educator. Her teacher did not practice zero tolerance or call a school resource officer to slam young Maya to the ground. She saw the brokenness of a girl child who needed to be drawn gently back into the world. She helped Maya regain her voice through a love of literature and poetry. As a girl Maya was burdened with poverty and brokenness, but she also encountered meaningful opportunities to learn, grow, and discover her talents while experiencing the care of her community. Maya transformed these opportunities into a life of singular accomplishment and remarkable contributions.
Maya became a fierce advocate for voting rights and human rights, working first with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and later with both Coretta Scott King and Dr. Betty Shabazz.  Recognizing the importance of race and gender health disparities, Dr. Angelou gave her name to the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. In Washington, D.C., she enthusiastically contributed her name to the Maya Angelou Public Charter School offering second chances to young people emerging from juvenile incarceration. Maya Angelou’s path was not always pretty or polite, but it always affirmed that Black Girls Rock and Black Women Matter.”

Indeed, Maya Angelou’s story embodies the barriers and pathways for black women and girls we have gathered to discuss today. I believe she would be pleased by this unprecedented gathering of scholars, activists, artists, journalists, citizens, and lawmakers committed to eliminating injustices black women face. I believe she would commend each of the co-chairs for the visionary leadership to develop the first Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girls. And I believe she would ask of the larger legislative body, “What took so long?”

Read the full speech in Elle.