(Graphic courtesy of the National Women's Law Center)
Imagine doing exactly the same job as a co-worker of the opposite sex – identical duties from beginning to the end of the workday – except the woman makes 77 cents to every dollar the man earns.
It happens every day right here in the Volunteer State, according to the Tennessee Economic Council on Women in its new report, The Status of Women in Tennessee Counties, defining patterns of gender inequities and ranking their severity in each of 95 Tennessee counties.
Revealed at the 2012 Economic Summit for Women, the report provides an information-rich tool for the governor, state legislators, and other policy makers to more easily effect change where it’s needed most.
“Women make up more than half of the population in Tennessee. Nationally, women make up about 50 percent of the labor force. With those numbers alone, it’s clear that women’s wages and earnings have a tremendous impact,” wrote the council’s administrators in an opening letter to a recent wages and earnings study. “And in Tennessee, where the government’s operating source is primarily sales taxes, personal spending income translates into revenue streams.”
The Great Recession has dramatically changed Tennessee’s economic landscape.
“This decade’s crash and slow climb in employment, wages and investment returns have had a pervasive, but varied, effect on every citizen, with an interestingly unpredictable long-term impact on women as a population,” according to the report.
Clearly, this lost decade has hindered progress for men and women alike, but statistics point to it as a leveler as well.
"Amidst years of upheaval and hardship, Tennesseans are left with an economy that is slightly more equitable, with more female influence and a renewed opportunity to grow together with shared leadership and inspiration," the administrators said in the report.
As compared to other Tennessee counties, Rutherford County women have shown improvement and are now ranked highest in the state with regard to economic strength and opportunity, according to the report.
“In particular, median income, unemployment and academic achievement were some of the strongest drivers of Rutherford’s rating,” the report states. “Significantly, the county did not perform as well in indicators relating to teenage girls, and while poverty rankings diminished only slightly, actual rates went up significantly enough to include nearly one in six women and one in three single mothers.”
While Tennessee’s wage gap shrunk from 72 cents to a man’s dollar in 2000 to 77 cents in 2010, “the pace of change toward equity is alarmingly slow, but it’s not enough just to say it,” said Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, executive director of the council.
“This agency is working hard to break that figure into its component parts, showing through this report and other works that women earn less than men with similar educational attainment, earn less than men in the same occupations, and are disproportionately represented in less lucrative administrative and support roles, or ‘pink collar jobs,’” she said.
Rutherford County women made significant gains in median income between 2000 and 2010, adding $8,882 to their wages and rising two ranks, to third in the state.
Local women also outpaced inflation in this measure by roughly 7 percent and nearly doubled the wages gains seen by men, whose median income ranked 17th in the state among their peers, the report shows.
Contrasting with most of Tennessee’s high-income counties, women in Rutherford County rank relatively well regarding wage disparities, having improved from 43rd to 17th between 2000 and 2010. This resulted from a 9.63 percent decrease in the difference between male and female wages, and women now earn roughly 81.83 percent of what their male counterparts do.
Though third best in the state, this still corresponds to a shortfall of $7,869 annually.
Women in Rutherford County now participate in the workforce at a rate of 74.4 percent; having risen by 23.5 percent, but dropping to fourth in 2010 from first in 2000.
As of 2010, local men were 13.5 percent more likely to participate in the labor pool than the average woman, and women with children younger than 6 years old were slightly less likely at a rate of 71.1 percent.
Unfortunately, the report states, unemployment has also increased in Rutherford County.
In 2010, 18.1 percent of women in the county were unemployed – 0.2 percent higher than the statewide rate – and Rutherford fell in this indicator from 26th statewide to 43rd.
Despite higher participation rates, men were less likely to be unemployed in 2010, at 6.4 percent, while 9.4 percent of women with young children were jobless.
That said, the pattern of lower male rates and higher rates for women with children is common across Tennessee.
The report also shows Rutherford County women have made strong gains in managerial presence since 2000. Nearly 9.5 percent more managers are now female, rising to 37th from 46th, and outperforming state estimates by nearly 1 percent.
Women are estimated to own a smaller share of local businesses, however.
This indicator declined by 1.1 percent and 14 ranks to 34th between 2000 and 2007. When considering jointly owned businesses as well, women now have at least partial stake in 46.1 percent of the businesses in Rutherford County.
Academic attainment has generally improved for Rutherford County women since the year 2000. The proportion of women holding four-year degrees has increased by 7.8 percent to include over 1 in 4 women, which has caused the county to improve from ninth to sixth statewide.
Roughly 6.6 percent more women now hold diplomas in the county, as well, resulting in a bump in this indicator’s rankings of one spot, to fourth. The only detracting figure in this group is the dropout rate that hovers at 0.35 percent for teenage girls during the 2011-12 school year, which compared favorably to the state rate of 0.61 percent, but fell in county rankings, from 33rd to 42nd.
Rutherford County performed better in living standard indicators than nearly any other county between 2000 and 2010.
Health insurance coverage, for example, did diminish – leaving 12.2 percent of women in the county uninsured, but remained 3.5 percent better than the statewide rate, and moved up in rankings, from 17th to fourth. Poverty rates followed a similar path. Overall, women were 4.4 percent more likely to live in poverty in 2010 than in 2000, but continued to fare better than women statewide, with Rutherford County dropping six ranks, to 11th.
Continuing a state trend, single mothers in Rutherford County were far more keenly affected by the decade’s economic hardships, and 31 percent of this group of local women lived in poverty as of 2010. This makes single mothers more than five times as likely to live in poverty as they were 10 years ago, and more than twice as likely to do so as the average woman in Rutherford County.