The Oregonian, September 21, 2016
Oregon women have the nation’s highest rates of reported depression and heavy alcohol use. More than half say they have experienced sexual or domestic violence, one of the worst rates in the country, officials at a new Oregon foundation have found.
And Oregon is one of the least affordable states for working mothers to care for children, with a year of daycare now more expensive than annual tuition at a state university.
Officials at the new Women’s Foundation of Oregon say they hope the “Count Her In” report, released Wednesday, will be a wakeup call. It’s the first comprehensive look at Oregon women and girls in nearly two decades. And it is grim.
“When you read this list, it’s just irrefutable that Oregon has a problem with gender equity,” said Sue Hildick, president of the Chalkboard Project and the board chair for the new foundation. “And it’s deep.”
https://mlewis-oregonian.carto.com/viz/8c243980-7f9c-11e6-a927-0e233c30368f/embed_map The stark findings, pulled from surveys and federal and state reports, reflect harsh circumstances for Oregon’s women in almost every facet of life:
• Nearly half say they’ve experienced a childhood traumatic event such as abuse or neglect, federal surveys have found. . Nearly a quarter say they have been raped.
• Women across the state earn less than men, according to Census numbers. For women of color, the wage gap is much larger. Latinas, for instance, earn only 53 cents for every dollar earned by all men.
• And the foundation discovered nearly half of Oregon’s counties have zero women serving on their county commissions, the government bodies usually responsible for doling out social services.
Advocates say the findings match hard data to an unsettling reality they’ve witnessed for years. Oregon’s women and girls are struggling — with domestic abuse and sexual harassment, but also school attendance and substance abuse.
“We didn’t have the data to back up our claims,” said Elizabeth Nye, the executive director of Girls Inc. “You feel like you’re just shouting into the wind, not being able to substantiate what you’re saying.”
But Hildick, Nye and others say the report offers a glimmer of hope. Maybe now, they hope, policymakers will listen to pleas for help.
“It’s a way to start conversations, to galvanize and bring energy to these issues,” Nye said. “If you don’t ever talk about it, or if you don’t know it, it’s just going to continue to be the same as it always has been. I really do think people will step up and say, ‘This can’t continue this way. We can do better.’
The last comprehensive report on Oregon women and girls came out in 1998. That report, created by the Oregon Commission on Women and the Institute for Women’s Policy, drew mostly from 1990 Census data.
Its findings were hopeful: Oregon women led the country in voter turnout, health insurance coverage and business ownership. They reported roughly average rates of employment and earnings.
That data, nonprofit workers said, was no longer a useful guide for their programs.
“It was a different time,” Emily Evans, the director of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon, said about the 1990 Census. “The Berlin Wall had just come down. I was in first grade. Nobody had a computer in their house.”
For the new foundation’s report, Evans started by talking to nonprofit leaders such as Nye about what kind of data might help their work.
Existing survey data didn’t always break down responses by race or income, Nye pointed out.
In Oregon, for instance, Nye said people assumed school-age girls were doing “fine” because they graduate at higher rates than boys do. But what about black and Latina girls? What about girls living in poverty? No one had data to show how they, specifically, were faring.
Evans’ foundation first paid economists ECONorthwest to pull relevant federal, state and local numbers. Then the foundation conducted its own research. They trawled state, city and county governments to compile a list of female elected officials. And they supplemented their numbers with face-to-face interviews across the state.
Earlier this year, foundation workers and volunteers loaded up Evans’ grandparents’ 1985 motor home and went on the road. They visited 14 counties and talked to 1,000 women and girls. They held events in Spanish, Russian and Somali. They drove to the Umatilla reservation to talk with Native American women.
The 28-foot motorhome doubled as a listening booth. There, women recorded their own histories. The data said wages are low and daycare costs are high. Evans said women knew that, intimately, from trying to juggle their career aspirations with their role as caretakers.
“Oregon and women know what’s wrong,” Evans said. “There was no disagreement with what the data said. These challenges are felt every day.”
The data, for instance, revealed high rates of sexual violence across the state. On the road, women told foundation staff and volunteers that their communities are ill-equipped to support survivors. Hospitals lack trained sexual assault nurse examiners, as well as the money to process physical evidence like rape kits.
In Newport, one woman described waiting days without a shower after her assault because no one at her local hospital was trained to examine her. She eventually drove to Corvallis to receive help.
Data collected from a child care advocacy group showed the cost of child care in Oregon is the second most expensive state in the country for infant care — a statewide average of $11,322 a year — and the fourth most expensive for toddler care, with a statewide average of $8,797. A single parent making the median income of $22,000 would have to spend half her salary to put an infant in daycare.
“There is a reckoning coming,” Evans said. “We have this perception of ourselves as a progressive state and a great place to live. When we dive into the data, we’re finding it’s incredibly challenging for women and girls in Oregon, more challenging than it is in many, if not most, other states. But there is something hopeful about finally knowing the full measure of the problem. Then we can move past the speculation of whether it is a problem and move toward creating solutions together.”
A few policymakers have indicated they plan to join that quest.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, first heard about the report when his wife attended a listening session in Bend. He contacted the foundation and asked for a copy of their findings.
“I’m a physician by training, so I’m a data-driven guy,” Buehler said. “I try to stay away from the tired partisan arguments. I just try to look at the data and not ask if it’s a Republican or Democratic idea, but what’s the best idea to solve the problem?”
Buehler called the report “really top-notch work” and said it will help guide him in the coming months. Buehler, who pushed legislation 2015 that made it easier for women to obtain birth control prescriptions, plans to use the data next year as he works on bills aimed at improving mental health and suicide prevention.
The report, citing state and federal data, said 9 percent of Oregon women report having seven or more drinks a day — the highest rate in the nation and nearly double the national average of 5 percent. On their listening tour, the researchers found 70 percent of women told them they “faced a mental health issue that adversely affected” their jobs, home life or health.
“Good policy will be produced from such great foundational efforts,” he said.
The group found some bright spots.
Oregon women vote at higher rates than Oregon men, and at higher rates than women in most other states. Oregon women serve in statewide elected office at some of the highest rates in the country. And they give charitably and volunteer their time at higher rates than Oregon men and than women in most other states.
“Women and girls in Oregon are giving a lot but getting less than women and girls in other states,” Evans said. “Imagine how much they could give if they weren’t facing all these daily challenges.”
— Casey Parks
Interactive map by Melissa Lewis