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Press Release

Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota Illuminates Pathways to Equity

New Research in Economics, Safety, Health, and Leadership

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs released new research today on the status of women and girls in Minnesota in four key areas: economics, safety, health, and leadership. A presentation on March 17 will share highlights of the research: bit.ly/2022StatusWebinar. The report is available at: bit.ly/2022SWGMN.

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.

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. “Amid COVID-19 and persistent reminders of racial injustice, it’s never been more apparent that our state’s renowned prosperity and quality of life are not experienced by all,” said Perez.

“We know that despite our progress, Minnesota still has gender and racial inequities we must address, using research as a tool for action. We identify this report as a call for individuals and institutions to transform our systems by dismantling racial and gender inequities and increasing investments in community solutions so that all women and girls thrive.”

“This report begins to show the longer-term and disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being women and girls in the state, with more severe impacts on women and girls of color and Native women and girls. It is now time to address the systemic roots of these disparities through public and private sector 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 since 2009, 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 2022 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.

“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. We also are attentive to the different experiences of metro and greater Minnesota. Understanding Minnesota’s community variation is key to crafting responses that address the unique disparities faced by different groups,” said Ewig.

Economics

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated many of the underlying factors that prevent women in Minnesota—and the nation—from achieving economic security. Investing in women’s economic security means addressing the persistent gender wage gap, which in Minnesota continues to shortchange all groups of women and affects Latina, Black, and Native American women the most.

In addition, women must have unrestricted pathways to the building blocks of economic security: education and training, stable living-wage jobs with benefits including paid family and medical leave, affordable child care, freedom from debt, and the ability to accumulate assets, such as owning a home. Women’s economic vulnerability increases over a lifetime, which can lead to housing insecurity, debt, poverty, and reduced access to health care in old age. Economic barriers for women of color and Native American women spotlight Minnesota’s significant racial inequities. Over time, gender and race disparities combine to create wealth gaps between women and men, and communities of color and white Minnesotans. This means women of color in particular lack financial assets to invest in the future of their communities.

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 their gains in increasing education. Women of color were hardest hit by COVID-19 layoffs as were women-owned businesses, in part due to their concentration in sectors most vulnerable to pandemic-related closures. The wage gap facing all women in Minnesota has barely changed over the past five years. Over a lifetime, women in Minnesota lose an estimate $447,960 in lifetime earnings due to the gender wage gap. Women of color and Native American women will experience even greater losses.

“The wage gap is one of the areas where our intersectional, disaggregated approach uncovers important distinctions, particularly for Minnesota’s immigrant communities,” Ewig noted. For Somali women the wage gap is more than 2.5 times greater, and for Hmong and other African immigrant women it is twice that, experienced by white women. “This means the average white woman must work just over 14 months, a Hmong woman must work nearly 17 months, and 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+ people of color have lower incomes, as do rural LGBTQ+ people, and transgender women see their wages fall by nearly one third after they transition. Gaps remain even when taking education, industry, and experience into account and widen over the course of women’s lives.

Safety

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. “Our persistently high rates of violence demand we transform our systems, value the lives of people who have been pushed to the margins, and implement the solutions of communities who experience injustice and violence.”

“The disparities faced by Native women in Minnesota continue to be of great concern and reflect traumas rooted in our colonial history,” 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.

“Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office and Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women are important steps in addressing the systemic causes of violence and disappearance among our state’s communities. We support the community-led strategies and recommendations of each task force in preventing these crimes and bringing resolution to families seeking justice,” 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 prioritize their safety and well-being as we invest in prevention and healing,” 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. Three times as many lesbian girls and transgender or nonbinary students report running away from home or living in a shelter on their own as their straight, cisgendered counterparts. 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.

Health

COVID-19 highlighted the health risks that stem from the cumulative effects of economic disparities and systemic racism, 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.

The 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. “There is still more to be done, however, to close the race gap in health insurance coverage.” One in three Latina women and one in five Black women in Minnesota reported that they could not see a doctor because of costs in the past year.
The report shows disparities based upon place, including high teen birth rates in rural Minnesota. Minnesota’s decline in rural obstetric services now outstrips the national average. In 2000, 15 Minnesota counties had no hospitals providing obstetrics care. By 2018, this figure had increased to 29 counties.

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. “For example, a woman in Grand Marais would need to travel two hours by car, to Duluth, to give birth in a hospital with obstetric services.” Between 2000 and 2018, the number of hospitals in Minnesota offering birthing services dropped by 19 percent. Access to prenatal care is also unequal, with Native women reporting the highest rate of inadequate care at 57%, followed by Black women at 40%.

The report highlights significant racial disparities in disease, including mortality rates for cancer that are greater for Native American and Black women. Native American and Black women experience the highest rates of breast cancer mortality compared to women of other racial and ethnic groups. Native American women have the highest incidence of any group of cervical cancer. While mortality rates due to heart disease and stroke have been trending down in Minnesota, they remain shockingly high for Native American women and some women of color.

According to the state Department of Health, Minnesota would have healthier babies, more productive workers, and better overall health if every employer provided paid family and sick leave. And yet, low-wage and women of color workers are vastly overrepresented among those without sick leave. Moreover, only 50% of Minnesota’s new mothers take parental leaves of 6 weeks or longer – unsurprising if leave is unpaid.

Leadership

Although women’s representation among Minnesota’s corporate executives has risen in recent years (to 22 percent in 2020), at the current rate it would take 54 years to reach gender parity. “Corporate Minnesota would benefit from placing greater emphasis on diversifying its leadership,” said Ewig. “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.”

In local politics, men continue to dominate county governments, and women are underrepresented in municipal offices. Yet, the number of women mayors is growing in Minnesota. Women now lead 32% of all Minnesota cities over 30,000. “In this year’s report we expanded our data on women and law, and found that in 2021, women achieved parity with men as state court judges” said Ewig. “Combined with the majority female membership of the Minnesota Supreme Court, women are well represented in state courts.” However, Ewig also noted, “The data on racial diversity is more difficult to gather, but it’s clear that our justice systems need greater racial and ethnic diversity, especially on the federal bench.”

Even though women dominate the teaching profession, they are not proportionately represented in top leadership. The teaching profession in Minnesota is overwhelmingly white. Only 4% of teachers in the state are non-white, compared to 22% of the population.

“The findings of this report and what we heard from our state’s communities in the Road to Transformation Listening Series show us that we must demand better for our state’s women and girls who face the greatest barriers. We invest in working alongside our state’s communities to build leadership and community power as we transform our systems. Black, Indigenous, and women of color, young women, and gender-expansive people are leading movements for change, community safety and healing, and policy advocacy across our state. When we invest in their leadership, we are putting gender and racial justice at the heart of our way forward so that children, families, and all people will benefit. It’s time we come together across sectors and political parties to end the inequities across economics, safety, health, and leadership,” Perez said.

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