In March, the North Carolina Department of Administration released the final report in a four-part series on the Status of Women in North Carolina, commissioned by the NCDOA Council for Women and Youth Involvement. Together, the reports provide critical data and policy recommendations that can serve as a resource for shaping policy, setting goals, and making funding decisions that will improve the lives of women and children. The four reports on The Status of Women in North Carolina series focus on Employment and Earnings (2018), Health and Wellness (2019), Political Participation (2020), and Poverty and Opportunity (2022).
Most of the data used in this fourth report comes from 2019 and prior and describes poverty and opportunity status before the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, where available, the report shares emerging data on the pandemic’s impact. It examines four key indicators necessary for women’s economic success: (1) access to health insurance coverage, (2) educational attainment, (3) business ownership, and (4) poverty rates.
North Carolina receives a D+ grade, (the same grade received in 2004) and ranks 28th (of 51) on the Poverty and Opportunity Index.
North Carolina received its highest ranking at 10th nationally for women-owned businesses (38.9 percent) and its worst, at 44th for health insurance coverage among women aged 18 to 64 years old (85.5 percent). North Carolina also ranked 38th in the percent of women above poverty (86.4 percent). and 26th in the percentage of women with at least a bachelor’s degree.
In each category, there are wide disparities in status across the counties in NC. For example, health insurance coverage rates among women aged 18 to 64 range from a low of 72.9 percent in Tyrrell County to a high of 92.3 percent in Orange County. The share of nonelderly women with health insurance exceeds the national average in only nine North Carolina counties.
In another stark difference, more than 3/5 of the women in Orange County have at least a bachelor’s degree, while fewer than 1/10 of the women in Hyde county have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Although NC is among the states with the largest share of women-owned businesses (10th), a full 91% of these are non-employer businesses meaning that they don’t have employees. Non-employer businesses generally have lower sales, receipts, and revenue than businesses with employees and are more vulnerable to setbacks such as those experienced due to the pandemic.
A common thread through the report is the need for more health care stability and educational and job opportunities for women, especially women of color and those living in rural areas. The report identified key recommendations that will help provide women the support they need to achieve economic and health stability:
- Expand access to affordable health care (e.g. expand Medicaid).
- Build and invest in the care economy (e.g. publicly funded child care and universal pre-K).
- Mandate paid family and medical leave/paid sick days.
- Increase the minimum wage and tie it to cost-of-living increases.
- Address the gender wage gap (e.g. increase transparency laws and increase access to family leave).
- Address disparities in educational attainment (e.g. close the digital divide and provide support for adult students such as child care).
- Expand support for women-owned businesses (e.g. address lack of access to financial options and expand support for businesses affected by the pandemic).
- Strengthen the social safety net (e.g. ensure that those who need food or other assistance get the support they need and can access the appropriate programs).
Investing in programs to improve the well-being of women enhances the overall health of a community and raises the quality of life for everyone. We hope this report and those that preceded it in the series motivate policymakers, lawmakers, the business community, and funders to make the investments NC so clearly needs.