Study: Economic picture mixed for Nevada women

Jill Winter spent the better part of four years thinking about a statistical snapshot of the status of women in Nevada.

Now when she comes to the sections of a new report that detail the economic status of women in the state,Winter returns again and again to one figure: A single parent with one pre-schooler and one school-aged child needs to make $15.45 an hour to stay afloat in Washoe County and that doesn't make allowance for saving any money or spending anything on recreation or education.

That's not much less than the average wage of workers in Nevada $17.34 at last count.

More troubling, says Winter, is that the figure was developed by researchers at the Progressive Leadership Alliance in 2002 just as housing prices in the region were beginning their breathtaking rise.

"Housing has gotten worse and worse since then," she says.

Winter, a retired researcher and teacher at the University of Nevada, Reno, says the study commissioned by the Reno-based Nevada Women's Fund paints a mixed picture of the ability of women to maintain self-sufficiency.

On one hand,more women are moving into managerial jobs and starting their own businesses statewide.

On the other hand, Nevada lags behind the nation on both scores.

The portion of women in the state who are self-employed is 7.2 percent; nationally, it's 7.4 percent.

To take another example, the median earnings of women in Nevada in 2003 was 81 percent of the earnings of men.

That's better than the nationwide ratio of 75 percent but the Nevada Women's Fund researchers say no one should be misled.

"This ratio is higher for Nevada than the U.S.

because men's wages in Nevada were more than $3,000 lower and women's wages were only slightly less than the national median $200 lower," they wrote.

Winter notes, too, that women continue to hold more than their share of jobs in lower-wage sectors of the economy.More than 62 percent of the sales and office jobs in the state are held by women; they hold 6.4 percent of the jobs in construction.

"Why do we pay less for the jobs that women tend to do?"Winter asks."Why don't teachers make as much as plumbers?"

Job-training programs, the study concludes, should encourage more women to enter apprenticeships in construction fields.

But in some industries,Winter cautions, job-training programs may prove to be a trap.

Employers who need high-skill workers aren't coming to Nevada because they don't find the workforce they need.

And because those employers aren't locating in the state, newly trained workers can't find jobs in their field.

The top-paying occupation for women in Nevada is medicine, where female physicians and surgeons reported a median income of $88,000 in 1999, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Male physicians and surgeons, however, reported earnings of $140,000.

Among chief executive officers statewide, men reported average earnings of $95,000; women CEOs earned an average of $60,000.

But Winter cautions that the figures need more than knee-jerk analysis.

In the medical professions, for instance, women are more likely to be in relatively lowpaid specialties such as pediatrics rather than high-paid fields such as surgery.

Among CEOs,Winter says, it's possible that women head smaller firms than their male counterparts.

The Nevada Women's Fund commissioned the study which covers subjects such as health and education as well as economic issues because it needed more information for its program of grants.

Since 1982, the fund has awarded more than $3.5 million in scholarships to women and grants to organizations that serve women and children.

But Winter notes that leaders of the fund increasingly were curious about whether women in the state might have needs that hadn't been discovered.

They raised $50,000 through special fund drives and got another $50,000 in federal funding to complete the $100,000 study.

Researchers at UNR and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, joined with the Women's Research Institute of Nevada to provide much of the horsepower for the study.

An update of the data, one that will allow researchers to see trends, probably won't come until the 2010 Census data is available.

Even though the study is densely packed with statistics on its 100-plus pages,Winter says researchers were surprised at the number of questions they asked that haven't been addressed statistically.

"Part of the problem," she says,"is that people don't want to see the answers."


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