Status of Women in Colorado - January 2001

Denver Women's Commission
Status of Women in Colorado - January 2001

Prepared for Colorado Women News
By Chaer Robert
December 3, 2000

WITHOUT FLYING COLORS

When I was a kid, an “A” was good. Anything less than an “A” was a problem to be fixed. Will Colorado be more complacent? The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in conjunction with the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, recently released their “Status of Women in Colorado” report. Colorado placed in the top third of states in four out of five categories. Is that good enough? Or will our legislature address problem areas as well as they build on strengths?

Our lowest score, a “C-“, came in areas of reproductive health. Don’t expect dramatic changes in access to reproductive health. The State Senate and the State House and the Governor’s office are deeply split on that issue.

IWPR rated Colorado a fairly healthy state. We had fewer illnesses, except for mental health problems and suicides. We had more prevention and screening. It’s a good thing, since we rank 30th among states in the percent of women with health insurance. Will this year’s State Legislature expand access to health care by fixing the Child Health Plan, reducing barriers to Transitional Medicaid for those leaving welfare, and providing cancer treatment for some uninsured women with breast and cervical cancer? Or will they push more residents into the ranks of the uninsured with changes to small group health insurance? Will they change the community rating system that has helped keep insurance rates affordable for small businesses? Will they restrict access to “business-groups-of-one” which have provided affordable health insurance for the self-employed?

Our state contribution to services for those sexually assaulted or in violent relationship is $.45 to a national average of $1.34 per person. Over 8000 times in 1999, a Colorado woman called a shelter, but was told the safehouse was full. The legislature this year may consider a request to expand funding for safehouses.

Our highest ratings-- “B+”-- were in the areas of the economy and jobs. Colorado women are more likely to work, to own their own businesses, to be managers and professionals and to be highly educated. This is no surprise, but it does camouflage how unevenly the benefits are spread. The high cost of housing has cancelled out income gains for many. There may be plenty of jobs, but women in low-paid jobs may not have enough hours in a day to work long enough to afford housing.

Have you ever worked at a company where the women earned less than men for equally demanding jobs? Have you ever worked for a company where salaries were secret, with the penalty for revealing them being dismissal? A bill this year will address the pay gap. Colorado ranks 15th among states in narrowing the pay gap between men and women.

For those who make minimum wage or slightly above, the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits add critical dollars to their quest for self-sufficiency. This year, lawmakers will again consider whether to make our state earned income tax credit permanent, rather than conditional on the state surplus.

Fewer than one in 5 women leaving welfare found a job with above poverty level wages ($13,880 for a family of 3). Some proposals this year to aid the transition include:

1. Allowing someone to take an entry-level job without immediately losing government support.

2. Reducing the barriers to obtaining transitional Medicaid for one year after employment.

3. Providing job-training programs for the children’s father, so that he is better able to meet child support obligations.

IWPR has now completed similar reports on 32 states. They use the same yardsticks for each state, giving us a rare sense of comparison.

No matter how strongly you feel about these, or any other issues, it all counts for nothing unless you contact your legislator. Most legislators hear from their constituents on only a fraction of the hundreds of bills they consider. So they must rely on other sources of information…bill sponsors, those who testify, lobbyists, party position, and their own experience, understanding and values. They may or may not get the full picture from these sources. With terms limits, many legislators will be considering the issues for the first time. Your legislator’s job is to represent you. Your job is to tell them what’s most important to you.

For a copy of the $15. report, contact the Women’s Foundation at 303-832-8800. Additional information is on their website at http://www.wfco.org and on the IWPR website:www.iwpr.org

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