Women, Economics and Opportunity


Yesterday the Washington Area Women’s Foundation presented its new publication “2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area” at a community briefing at the Grand Hyatt Washington. This 105 page document includes citations from other research as well as original research and contains information on a myriad of topics affecting women and girls, from employment and earnings to health and safety to philanthropy, and provides a strong stimulus for thought and action.

 This study is significant to us at Byte Back since most (71%) of our students are female. What is particularly relevant to Byte Back and our students are the figures related to economics and demographics. The median income for female-headed households in the District in 2008 was $29,900, as compared to $41,454 for the Washington Metropolitan area as a whole. Women’s poverty rates in the District (19%) are twice that of women in the Metro area (8.4%). This is the reason why Byte Back continues to focus our efforts primarily on women in the District.

 The report cites analyses by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute finding that 27% of residents of Ward 7 & 8 were poor, as compared to 6% of Ward 3. This data is consistent with the unemployment rates we have been following over the course of the recession, in which women in Ward 8 are almost ten times as likely to be unemployed as women living in Ward 3. Poverty is a problem that is not shared equally by the different wards of our city, which is why Byte Back has established our partner sites in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the District. Last year, we taught at the Woodridge Library in Ward 5 and at the Francis Gregory and Benning Libraries in Ward 7. This year, we are teaching at Southeast Ministry in Ward 8 and Mayfair Mansions in Ward 7.

 In the District, 26% of black women and 21% of Latinas are living in poverty as compared to 7.4% of white women. The poverty rate for Latinas compared to white women is even more pronounced in nearby Prince Georges County (14% as compared to 4.5%) and in Montgomery County, where Latinas are four times as likely to be poor as white women (16% compared to 4%).  Fourteen percent of Byte Back students live in suburban Maryland. While the majority of Byte Back students are African American (85%), the need for computer training for Latinos must be addressed as well. While we have taught bilingual classes in the past, this fall we are launching an initiative to provide a more comprehensive program for Latino students. We have recently hired two full-time AmeriCorps volunteers who are fluent in Spanish: Luis Callejas and Kyle Johnson. Luis is creating a new curriculum, which is customized for Spanish-speaking students and we anticipate beginning instruction in November.

 Older women, age 75-84 in the District are more likely to be poor than others, with poverty rates of 20%, as compared to 16% for all District women – a 25% difference. According to the study, “the primary reason for high rates of poverty among elderly women in our region is low lifetime earnings arising from wage inequality, occupational segregation, and family care giving responsibilities.” Also, since women live longer than men, “women who are married often outlive their spouses and lose some or all of the spouse’s pension benefits as a result – and Social Security benefits are too low to make up the difference.” Last year Byte Back partnered with the DC Public Library to provide computer training to senior citizens. Fully 67% of these students were either working full-time or part-time or were looking for work. Sixty five percent of program graduates said their course helped them with their current job or with finding a job.

 At Byte Back, our strategy is to train our students for growth industries, including Healthcare, Technology, Education, and Business/Professional Services. Jobs such as Receptionists, Office Clerks and Executive Secretaries are expected to grow by 11-13% over the next six years. In addition, at Byte Back we encourage our students to continue their training in order to qualify for higher wage managerial jobs and technical positions including computer support specialist (expected to grow by 12%) and network administrator (slated to increase by 30%). Byte Back currently offers programs which prepare our students for internationally recognized certifications including Internet and Core Computing Certification (IC3), Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) and A+ certification. This week, we began a new program, in partnership with the Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF) and First Time Computers, to prepare students to open their own computer repair shop in their neighborhood.

 According to the study, Education and training are directly related to earning power for women in our region. Women with some post high school training earn 39% more than women with only a high school diploma and 114% more than women without a high school credential. As stated by the study, “for low-income women, education and training for high-quality jobs can provide a gateway to lasting self-sufficiency and serve as a powerful anti-poverty strategy.” According to the study, between 2008 and 2018, jobs requiring post secondary education and training will grow by 43,000 in the District and by 2018, will make up 72% of all jobs in the city.

 Many students come to Byte Back having had negative experiences with education. They have severe test anxiety and have little confidence in their ability to learn. Through our project-based curricula and our supportive environment, they grow to love learning and to embrace new technology. Many go on to take more classes at Byte Back, while others decide to pursue a college education.

 CALL TO ACTION:

The Washington Area Women’s Fund study has three recommendations about what you can do to improve the education and employment situation for women:

 ?  “Advocate with policy makers so they enact and enforce laws that ensure pay equity for women, increase the minimum wage, and implement a living wage.”

You can contact:

?   “Inquire in your own community about how well education and training programs are serving women and girls, and preparing them for jobs and careers with family-sustaining wages.”

  •  Last year , 39% of unemployed Byte Back job training graduates found employment/
  •  Of previously employed Office Track graduates, 83% retained their employment and 17% received a raise after their training.
  • Of the Office Track graduates who are currently employed, the average wage is $11.80 per hour and 25% receive health insurance from their employer.

?  “Become a philanthropist who invests in education, training, and employment programs for women and girls.”

 What are your thoughts about the economic situation for women in our region?