Young women are los­ing ground

Their well-be­ing trails that of their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers, a new re­port finds.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Ann M. Sim­mons ann.sim­mons@la­times.com

Young Amer­i­can women are poorer than their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers were when they were young, more likely to com­mit sui­cide and be shut out of high-pay­ing tech­nol­ogy jobs — an over­all demise in well-be­ing since the baby boom gen­er­a­tion.

Those are the find­ings in a new re­port by the Pop­u­la­tion Ref­er­ence Bureau, a non­profit that looks at pop­u­la­tion and other de­vel­op­ment is­sues. It found that so­cial and struc­tural bar­ri­ers con­tinue to ob­struct the ad­vance­ment of fe­male mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion X and mil­len­ni­als.

For ex­perts work­ing on women’s is­sues, the re­port’s con­clu­sions came as no sur­prise.

“We have been pushed back, there’s no ques­tion,” said Terry O’Neill, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women. “Younger women are re­ally feel­ing the ef­fects of ... a 30-year march to dis­man­tle govern­ment agen­cies, to dis­man­tle govern­ment pro­tec­tions, all in the name of free mar­kets.”

The re­port used 14 mea­sures to as­sess well-be­ing — such as earn­ing ca­pac­ity, ed­u­ca­tion and health — to cal­cu­late the mag­ni­tude of the change be­tween the sta­tus of young women to­day rel­a­tive to women in their moth­ers’ and grand­moth­ers’ gen­er­a­tions when they were the same age.

“We ex­pected to see that there would be cer­tain sub­groups of women that would be do­ing much worse than oth­ers, but we were sur­prised to find that women over­all were do­ing worse than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion,” said Mark Mather, as­so­ciate vice pres­i­dent of U.S. pro­grams at the Pop­u­la­tion Ref­er­ence Bureau and coau­thor of the re­port.

Mem­bers of the baby boom gen­er­a­tion, who were born be­tween 1946 and 1964, saw their well-be­ing in­crease by 66% over their World War II coun­ter­parts, but the im­prove­ments did not con­tinue for Gen­er­a­tion X women, born be­tween 1965 and 1981. They ex­pe­ri­enced a 2% gain in well-be­ing rel­a­tive to the baby boomers, while mil­len­nial women, born be­tween 1982 and 2002, ex­pe­ri­enced a 1% de­cline in well-be­ing, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Im­prove­ments in young women’s eco­nomic se­cu­rity be­gan to stag­nate dur­ing the mid-1990s, and their strug­gles have con­tin­ued into the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, par­tic­u­larly among women with­out col­lege de­grees, the re­port said.

In ad­di­tion to health, ed­u­ca­tion and earn­ing ca­pac­ity, the Pop­u­la­tion Ref­er­ence Bureau con­sid­ered other mea­sures of well-be­ing, in­clud­ing teen birth and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity rates, the preva­lence of cig­a­rette smok­ing and in­car­cer­a­tion rate.

The erod­ing so­cial safety net, vi­o­lence against women, unequal pay — the Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics put the me­dian weekly earn­ings of full-time work­ing men at $895 in 2015 com­pared with $726 for women — were other fac­tors hin­der­ing the over­all well-be­ing of young women, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

African Amer­i­can women, Lati­nas, Amer­i­can In­dian and Alaska Na­tive women were most sus­cep­ti­ble to bad out­comes, com­pared with their white and Asian Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, Mather said.

The re­port found that the pro­por­tion of women aged 30 to 34 liv­ing in poverty had in­creased to about 17% for the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, up from 12% for Gen­er­a­tion X fe­males. While Gen­er­a­tion X women com­prised 1 in 4 work­ers in high-pay­ing STEM oc­cu­pa­tions, the statis­tic dropped to 1 in 5 for mil­len­nial fe­males, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Such trends are be­ing tar­geted by the White House, which hosted a women’s em­pow­er­ment panel in March. In Fe­bru­ary, Pres­i­dent Trump signed a pair of bills into law aimed at re­cruit­ing more women for the fields of sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math. But such ef­forts take time.

“If you don’t have a col­lege de­gree to­day it is very dif­fi­cult to make enough to sup­port your­self and your fam­ily,” Mather said. “And for peo­ple in low-wage jobs it’s not just that they don’t have enough earn­ings, they often don’t have very good ben­e­fits.”

If they have young chil­dren it’s often hard for them to find af­ford­able child care, and trans­porta­tion costs are high, Mather said.

An anal­y­sis by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a Wash­ing­ton-based in­de­pen­dent non­par­ti­san pol­icy in­sti­tute, found that the av­er­age an­nual cost of child care for an in­fant younger than 12 months old is $18,000 a year for a 45-hour work­week. That’s “more than the en­tire an­nual in­come of a par­ent who is earn­ing the fed­eral min­i­mum wage for those hours,” said Sunny Froth­ing­ham, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s se­nior re­searcher for women’s eco­nomic pol­icy. “And the ma­jor­ity of min­i­mum wage earn­ers are in that 16- to 34-year-old age range.”

Shilpa Phadke, a se­nior di­rec­tor at the in­sti­tute, noted, “If we look at this par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tion of mil­len­ni­als, they came of age dur­ing the re­ces­sion; they had to search for jobs in a re­ally tough la­bor mar­ket, and were look­ing to higher ed­u­ca­tion as stu­dent debt was sky­rock­et­ing.”

The Pop­u­la­tion Ref­er­ence Bureau re­port also found that mil­len­nial women faced higher rates of ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity than their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers and were also more likely to com­mit sui­cide.

In ad­di­tion, the pro­por­tion of women im­pris­oned had in­creased ten­fold be­tween the World War II gen­er­a­tion and the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion.

The re­port also iden­ti­fied sev­eral pos­i­tive trends for young women, in­clud­ing a de­cline in the high school dropout rate, and an in­crease in the num­ber of women with at least a bach­e­lor’s de­gree.

Dis­par­ity in earn­ings and busi­ness own­er­ship has also di­min­ished for women since World War II, and teen births are at his­tor­i­cal lows.

Suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions have seen more women elected to Congress and state leg­is­la­tures.

But the pos­i­tive trends failed to out­weigh the neg­a­tive, Mather said.

“To­day we’re just see­ing much less progress across the board, and as a re­sult it didn’t take a whole lot to drag down the over­all in­dex of well-be­ing so that we saw this neg­a­tive re­sult for mil­len­nial women,” he said.

Joe Rae­dle Getty Images

THE PRO­POR­TION of women aged 30 to 34 years old liv­ing in poverty in Amer­ica has in­creased to about 17% for the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, up from 12% for Gen­er­a­tion X fe­males, a new re­port found.

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