Pandemic and Uprisings for Racial Justice Underscore Gaps for Minnesota’s Women and Girls
New Report Documents Underlying Disparities in Economics, Health, Safety, and Leadership
Today, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, in partnership with the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, released a new research report on the status of women and girls in Minnesota. The report details profound gender inequities that persist in Minnesota, with greater disparities faced by women and girls of color, Native Americans, rural women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and older women. The report is available at: bit.ly/2020SWGMN.
According to Gloria Perez, President & CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the overall research shows progress in some areas, but systemic gender and racial inequities continue to trap too many women in poverty, compromise their safety, hinder access to healthcare, and limit leadership opportunities. See the research launch presentation.
“Amid COVID-19 and the undeniable visibility of racial injustice, it’s never been more apparent that our state’s renowned prosperity and quality of life are not experienced by all Minnesotans,” said Perez. “We know that Minnesota’s Black, Indigenous, and people of color experience a state that has some of the worst racial inequities in the nation. At the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, we identify this report as a call for individuals and institutions to dismantle racial and gender inequities, increase investments in community solutions to end racial and gender injustice, and transform our state’s systems to create a Minnesota where all women and girls thrive.”
“Minnesotans care about each other – we came together after the June 2020 protests to clean up and re-build, just as we have at other moments in history. And that’s why we are confident the disparities we find in this report will be recognized by Minnesotans for what they are: a call to action,” said Christina Ewig, Director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, who led the research project.
Using Intersectional Analysis to Drive Transformation
The Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota report, produced biennially for the past decade, is the leading research on women and girls in the state and a key part of WFMN’s ongoing work to leverage intersectional research to drive transformative change. Using original and secondary research, the 2020 report demonstrates that inequities for women and girls accumulate over a lifetime and are impacted substantially by race, place, LGBTQ+ status, and other identities pushed to the margins in economics, health, safety, and leadership.
“Each Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota report disaggregates the statistics by race and ethnicity, including attention to Black communities, Native communities and Minnesota’s largest immigrant groups. Understanding Minnesota’s community variation is key to crafting responses that address the unique disparities faced by different groups,” said Ewig.
Women must have unrestricted pathways to the building blocks of economic security: education and training, stable living-wage jobs with benefits, caregiving supports, freedom from debt, and the ability to accumulate assets such as housing. Women’s areas of study and occupational fields, wage gaps experienced in the workforce, and lack of affordable, accessible childcare results in economic vulnerability over the course of a lifetime, which can lead to housing insecurity, debt, poverty, and reduced access to health care in old age. Particular barriers for women of color and Native American women spotlight Minnesota’s significant racial inequities, including a substantial and growing wealth gap between white Minnesotans and everyone else.
As COVID-19 continues to impact the economy, these disparities have become even more stark. Women grapple with exacerbated barriers to economic gain, including loss of employment, hazardous working conditions as essential workers, and lack of childcare as schools and other programming is closed.
Women continue to comprise the majority of workers in the state earning at or below the minimum wage and working in low-wage fields, despite impressive educational gains. “The wage gap facing all women in Minnesota hasn’t narrowed over the past five years,” Perez said. “Over a lifetime, women in Minnesota lose more than $400,000 in lifetime earnings due to the gender wage gap.”
“The wage gap is one of the areas where our intersectional, disaggregated approach uncovers important distinctions, particularly for Minnesota’s immigrant communities,” Ewig noted. On average, Asian American women in Minnesota earn $0.77 on the dollar as compared to white men. But further disaggregation shows that Hmong women experience a significantly larger gap, earning $0.55 on the dollar. Similarly, disaggregation for Black women reveals the largest disparities for Somali women, with the lowest average wage of all women at $0.44. “This means a Black Somali woman must work for more than two years to earn what the average white man earns in one year,” Ewig said.
Added to impacts by race and place, sexual orientation and gender identity can contribute to greater inequities, particularly when combined with race. LGBTQ+ women of color have lower incomes, transgender women see their wages fall by nearly one third after they transition, and total household incomes for families headed by lesbian couples are considerably lower than incomes of opposite-sex and gay male households. Gaps remain even when taking education, industry, and experience into account and widen over the course of women’s lives.
Women and girls in Minnesota are harmed by gender-based violence across their lifetimes – in their homes, on the streets, and in public institutions like schools, workplaces, and the criminal justice system. One in two Minnesota women report sexual violence, and one in four report physical violence from a partner in her lifetime. Consequences of this violence ripple over a lifetime and affect both physical and mental health, teen pregnancy, housing security, economic productivity, and personal security.
“We could fill Target Field 18 times with the Minnesota women who have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking — that’s more than 700,000 women experiencing the wide-reaching economic, health, and safety impacts of gender-based violence,” Perez said. “These persistently high rates of violence demand bold action to find solutions in partnership with the communities that are uniquely impacted.”
“In this year’s report, we uncovered disparities faced by Native women that we had not seen in previous reports,” noted Ewig. Native American women face violence at alarming rates, with more than 85 percent experiencing violence and 56 percent experiencing sexual violence in their lifetimes – a 20 percent greater likelihood compared to white women. “WFMN invested in research and Native organizations that created the conditions for the successful launch of Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force as an important step in addressing the systemic causes of this violence to create community-led prevention strategies,” Perez said. More than 25 percent of Native girls have attempted suicide – far greater than Native boys or teens of any other cultural group. “The report’s shocking statistics on Native women and girls, especially in the areas of health and safety, demand that we address the safety and well-being of Minnesota’s tribal communities,” Perez said.
Sexual orientation and gender identity also influence safety. Fifty-one percent of LGBTQ+ people say they or an LGTBTQ+ family member or friend have been sexually harassed because of their sexual or gender identity. Trans women experience cumulative effects of discrimination, including barriers to employment, housing, and healthcare, which renders them vulnerable to violence, housing and job insecurity, and homelessness.
COVID-19 highlights and compounds the health risks that stem from the cumulative effects of economic disparities, compounded by lack of access to health care for all Minnesotans. Even before the pandemic, Minnesota saw growing health inequities for women and girls of color, Native Americans, LGBTQ+ people, and women and girls in Greater Minnesota. Reducing health disparities and increasing positive health outcomes for all Minnesotans requires economic opportunity, physical activity, access to affordable and healthy foods, safe housing and neighborhoods, mental health services, and policies that ensure affordable access to high-quality health care.
This year’s report disaggregates health care insurance coverage data by race. “Increased insurance coverage in Minnesota under the Affordable Care Act was a critically important step toward health equity,” noted Ewig. “Unfortunately, state data show a downturn in coverage rates in the past year.” One in five Black women and one in four Latina women in Minnesota reported that they could not see a doctor because of costs in the past year.
The report highlights significant racial disparities in disease, including a 50 percent death rate from cancer for African American women, compared to 34 percent for white women, and a cervical cancer rate among Native women that is four times the rate of white women. While mortality rates due to heart disease and stroke have been trending down in Minnesota, they remain elevated for Native American women and some women of color.
The report also shows disparities based upon place, including the high teen birth rates in rural Minnesota. Of all rural Minnesota counties, more than 47 percent have no sexual health clinic, while Hennepin County has 18 such clinics. “For expectant mothers in rural areas, care is becoming increasingly inaccessible,” said Ewig. In rural Minnesota, hospitals offering birthing services dropped by 38 percent.
Although women’s representation among Minnesota’s corporate executives has risen in recent years (to 21 percent in 2018), at the current rate it would take 52 years to reach gender parity.
Ewig added, “We know from extensive scholarship that bringing women with diverse backgrounds and experiences into leadership positions brings clear benefits. Companies experience higher levels of innovation, while government becomes more representative.”
The November 2018 elections brought many firsts, especially for women of color and Native American women in Minnesota. In the area of women’s leadership, the number of women in the state legislature, disappointingly, has dropped. However, in 2019 the state swore in its most racially diverse legislature to date, 50 percent of whom were women of color. While women of color have increased their presence in the Minnesota legislature, they remain underrepresented to their proportion of the state’s population. Meanwhile, men dominate county governments, and women mayors remain rare in Minnesota.
“In the call for racial justice across systems, Black, Indigenous, and women of color, young women and gender expansive people are visible leaders in movement building, community safety and healing, and policy advocacy, even while experiencing unique inequities across economics, safety, health, and leadership,” Perez said. “At the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, we are invested in their leadership as they lead communities through times of crisis and create long-term solutions that transform our state into a place where all women and girls, their families, and communities thrive.”