Status of women focus of seminar

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— If three-quarters of the women in Colorado with children at home are also in the work force, the question becomes, who is caring for those children?
That issue was among numerous challenges posed Tuesday night by Marla Williams, president and CEO of the Colorado Women's Association, and Sue Birch, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, based in Steamboat Springs.
The women spoke to an audience of about 40 people, predominantly women, at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center. Williams provided an early look at the "Status of Women in Colorado" report, which was prepared in conjunction with a national study undertaken by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Williams said there is much to celebrate about the economic condition of women in Colorado women here rank fourth nationally in terms of employment and earnings and second in terms of achieving economic autonomy. They also rank third in the nation in terms of work force participation, she said, but that fact raises other issues.
In Colorado, 68.1 percent of adult women are in the work force, but when women with children under 18 are considered, that number rises to 75.3 percent.
"When you have that many women working, then you obviously have to have a way to have (employers) be responsive to their situation," Williams said.
Birch, who compared the situation for women in Northwest Colorado to the statewide view presented by Williams, put it more bluntly.
"If we have eight to nine women out of 10 in the work place, their children have to be in a quality setting," Birch said.
However, the cost of all-day child care here is typically about $40 a day, Birch added, and that expense alone can cause families to struggle.
The issues of parenthood and child care can define the economic status of women in the state, Williams said.
The percentage of women in Colorado who live below federal poverty guidelines ($16,700 of income for a family of four) is relatively low about 10 percent compared to 13 percent nationally. But the number jumps dramatically when the number of single women who act as the head of household is considered, Williams said. In Colorado, 34 percent of the women who fit that description are living below the federal poverty guidelines.
"That means that more than a third of the women who are trying to do it on their own with children are living in poverty," Williams said. "That's a stunning, stunning number."
In other areas of social and economic issues, Colorado continues to reflect a mixed bag of good and bad news, Williams said.
Colorado ranks third in the nation in the number of women-owned businesses. Fully 37 percent of the businesses in the state are owned by women, although a disproportionate number of those businesses are in the service industry.
However, Colorado ranks 30th among the 50 states in the number of women who are not covered by health insurance.
That means many women in the state are "a broken arm or prolonged illness away from homelessness or dipping below the poverty level," Williams said.
"We have a huge problem with uninsured people in our county," Birch agreed.
At the same time, she said, statistics on people seeking certain kinds of preventive care are "trending downward."
With the drying up of federal funding for childhood immunizations over the past few years, those numbers have gone down. And although Routt County exceeds the statewide numbers for the percentage of expectant mothers seeking prenatal care, not enough women are seeking that care, Birch said.
Compare the annual cost of prenatal care about $1,300 to the cost of putting a newborn through neonatal intensive care about $24,000 and preventive care begins to make economic sense, Birch said.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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