Tahlequah Daily Press

July 31, 2008

Single women still face uphill battle

By BETTY SMITH

In the late 1960s, when the second wave of the feminist movement gained support among American women, they frequently could be seen sporting buttons that said “59 cents.”

At the time, the average woman who worked outside the home earned only 59 cents for the average salary brought home by a man.

Things have changed, but not that much. Today, the working woman does earn more — 77 cents for each dollar a man makes.

So it’s appropriate that today, with Single Working Women’s Week beginning Sunday, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 1338. An e-mail from the American Association of University Women Action Network encourages members to call their representatives and urge them to vote for the measure.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963, closing loopholes and improving the law’s effectiveness,” the e- mail states. “Equal pay for equal work is a simple matter of justice for women, and a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act is a critical step forward in our goal to close the persistent and sizable wage gaps between men and women.”

The organization Women Employed offers these facts about working women on its womenemployed.org Web site:

• Nearly 15 million women in this country earn less than $25,000 a year, despite working in full-time, year-round jobs.

• One in four working families earns too little to meet basic needs.

• Only one in three workers has paid sick leave to care for their children, and 77 percent of the lowest-paid workers have no paid sick leave at all.

• The majority of women work outside the home, with 68 million in the civilian labor force, 63 percent working outside the home, and 54 percent working full time.

• Sixty-seven percent of working women earn half or more of their family’s income, and 77 percent of all mothers with school children, ages 6 through 17, work.

• Education is important. A woman with an associate’s degree earns 28 percent more than one with a high school education; a woman with a bachelor’s degree earns 75 percent more. Still, female high school graduates earn 34 percent less than male high school graduates, and female college graduates 33 percent less than males with an equivalent education.

On the surface, equality for women in the workplace may appear a given. For example, walk into the Bank of America branch in downtown Tahlequah, and odds are that you’ll be greeted by a woman – probably President Beverly Adkisson or Assistant Manager Rachel Younger.

Younger, who is divorced and rearing a 3-year-old son on her salary, never thought she’d be involved in bank management at this stage in her life. She realizes the work women in her mother’s generation accomplished to pave the way for her and her contemporaries.

“I was in retail management for about six years in Tulsa, with Bath and Body Works,” she said. “I moved here to Tahlequah before having my son, and I knew I didn’t want to go back there.”

She attended school while considering her career options. Her cousin was applying for a job with Bank of America and encouraged her to do likewise. The cousin took a job elsewhere, but Younger started her banking career in customer service.

Since she’d always been involved in sales and customer service, it was a natural stop.

“I was just at that point in life where you have to put food on the table,” she said.

Her gender has never been a problem at the bank, and she said her employer has been cognizant of her needs to spend time with her family. And promotions come by merit.

“I feel it is a lot more equal,” she said of today’s career field. “In our market, a lot of the managers and assistant managers are female.”

The only time being a woman has been an issue has been with some customers, usually older men.

“Some tend to balk a little when they find two women in charge here,” she said.

Younger always expected to work, because she grew up with a mother who worked outside the home. She was a nurse, and became an administrator for the vo-tech system.

“I did not have to face the trials and tribulations she did in the 1980s,” Younger said. “I would definitely say her era of women forged the way for my generation to have the higher-paying jobs.”

When her mother entered the vo-tech system, the only female students and educators were in nursing and health-related occupations. Today, at Indian Capital Technology Center, students can pursue any course they choose.

Younger’s job gives her the chance to help other women with financial planning.

“I tend to spend a lot of focus and energy on women who come into town; they’re divorced and they’re back,” she said. “I remember what it was like during my divorce and having a child.”

Sometimes divorce can be devastating to a woman’s credit, and Younger helps the newly-single through the financial maze, minimizing the damage.

“Single mothers don’t have a lot of money left over at the end of every month,” she said.

She also encourages them to set up planning for their children’s education. She already has a savings account for her son, so whatever course he pursues, he’ll have some financial backing at age 18.

“I didn’t plan on going into banking, but customer service is my passion. This job fits me perfectly, and I don’t ever plan to leave,” she said.

The only downside is that Tahlequah is a couples-oriented and family-oriented town. However, Younger does not believe meeting people and making friends here is as difficult as it would be in some towns this size.

Joyce Rose, independent living manager at Talking Leaves Job Corps, helps young women make the transition into employment.

Rose always expected to go to college. In her days, the options for an educated women were few — they were channeled into teaching or nursing. She chose nursing, until a boyfriend changed her mind. Her eventual husband was going into teaching, so she followed that major, too, rationalizing they could have the same schedules.

The marriage didn’t last, but the career did. Rose has been a single working woman for much of her life, and is an active member of the American Association of University Women, supporting its platform for women’s equity.

Rose has taught everything from culinary arts to reading, and has served as administrator at Tulsa and at Talking Leaves Job Corps sites.

“I can’t stay away from the kids. I make the time to give to the students and do what I enjoy,” she said. “I just like touching young people’s lives.”

How does she compare the tasks facing today’s young women entering the workforce with those who were educated when she was?

“I think in some aspects, it’s going to be a little bit easier. We have fought some of the battles and I think opportunities are open for them that weren’t there before,” she said.

But many young women don’t realize some of the barriers feminists broke down decades ago. They pooh-pooh what they perceive as “women’s lib,” without realizing the impact it has had on women’s lives.

Rose points to local women who have served as role models: Sheriff Delena Goss, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller, Tahlequah Mayor Sally Ross. All performed well in roles that used to be exclusively male.

“But there are still some ceilings out there. I don’t think they’ll ever be totally equal,” she said.