Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Isles slip in national
ranking on quality
of women’s lives

By Helen Altonn

Hawaii's women lost some ground in a national ranking on the quality of women's lives for political participation, employment and earnings, and health insurance.

"Many women are choosing between rent, health insurance and food. None of that is good for our community," said Jeanne Ohta, interim executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

The Status of Women in the States, a report compiled by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, lists these grades for Hawaii: Political participation, C; employment and earnings, C-plus; reproductive rights, A; health and well-being, A-minus; and social and economic autonomy, B.

Hawaii fell to 27th place in 2002 from 16th place in 2000 in terms of women's employment and earnings.

Ohta said a "mixture of proposals" will be submitted to the Women's Caucus of the state Legislature in the coming session to improve the rankings.

Ohta noted that Hawaii rose to 33rd in 2002 from 49th in the 2000 report for women in managerial and professional occupations.

But women still don't have pay equity, she said, stressing: "We need to do something about women's earnings. ... When you're a single mother, it really affects the way you support your family, what's available to your family."

In health and well-being of women, Hawaii slipped to second place from first in the country. Hawaii also dropped to 11th this year from first in 2000 in the percent of nonelderly women with health insurance.

Hawaii's uninsured rate has climbed in recent years to an estimated 13 percent from 5 percent, Ohta said.

She noted that other states have made gains in improving health while Hawaii remained the same.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson made the same point in commenting last week on Hawaii's drop to 14th place from 11th last year in a 2002 survey ranking the overall healthiness of the 50 states.

Anderson said Hawaii is "not holding our own and in some areas we're actually slipping."

Ohta stressed that the growing uninsured population must be addressed. The uninsured rate is related not only to the economic slump, but also because more people have two part-time jobs, which don't give them health coverage, she said.

"We need to do something. Certainly requiring it in statute is one," she said.

Efforts also must be made to help businesses understand that "the health of their employees and families does affect productivity of their employees," she said.

Employers would benefit by helping employees deal with stress in their lives involving child, health and elderly-care issues, she said.

"So many women are caregiving on both ends," she said.

In the one area where Hawaii made no changes -- reproductive rights -- the state rose to No. 1 from third in the nation.

"This reflects efforts in other states to cut back on women's reproductive rights, and we've held off," Ohta said.

She said Hawaii drew a C, moving up to 18th place from 21st, when combining voter registration, voter turnout, women in elected office and institutional resources.

The Honolulu County Committee on Status of Women and other organizations conducted voter registration drives because of concern over Hawaii's 2000 ranking for women's voter registration and voter turnout, Ohta said.

The 2002 data show no improvement: Hawaii ranks 50th in women's voter registration and 46th in voter turnout, but the report is based on data from 1998 and 2000, Ohta pointed out.

"What is confusing about the report is they (findings) lag behind in years," she said, explaining that other findings are based on 1999 and 2000 data.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research, a nonprofit public policy research organization in Washington, D.C., issues three or four in-depth state reports each year and a national report every other year, Ohta said.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann, the institute's founder, president and chief executive officer, said: "Hawaii's continued insistence on evaluating the status of women economically, politically and socially will ultimately benefit ourselves, our daughters and our society.

"Women have made tremendous progress, but there's a lot more to do, and we need to keep working on it."

Institute for Women's Policy Research,

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