An Open Letter to the Members of Women United In Philanthropy

June 2016

An Open Letter to the Members of Women United In Philanthropy:

No matter your preference of candidate, party or ideology, our world has forever changed. For the first time in more than 200 years a woman secured a major party’s nomination for President of the United States. We should rejoice in that. It’s an historic milestone that deserves to be celebrated.

Girls growing up today will see that a woman at the very least can be competitive when it comes to the most important job in the most powerful country in the world. The images children see matter. It changes the imagination.

Yet that change took more than three decades. It was July 13, 1984 when Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket – I know, my daughter Stephanie was born that day. I thought then that the world would be her oyster. I was so full of hope for the future, it never occurred to me that 32 years later little would have changed in areas such as equal pay, affordable child care, access to health care, and violence against women.

It was just last week that Judge Aaron Persky handed Stanford University student, Brock Turner, a six-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman. Persky’s lenient sentencing due to Turner’s “drunkenness, academic accomplishments, and athletic success” endanger college-aged women. He has essentially taken campus rape out of the category of things you can go to prison for.

Clearly, we have a lot farther to go.

As members of Women United in Philanthropy, we study the needs of women in our community so that we can take steps as educated philanthropists to work toward solutions that improve women’s lives, inspire change and create opportunities. Then we choose to fund critical programs that help break through the persistent barriers that continue to limit opportunities for women and girls. Over the last ten years we have invested $770,000 in high impact grant making to empower women to become economically strong and independent. In doing so, we have moved the needle and, the result is that the status of women and girls in Bergen County is stronger. But there is more to be done. Women’s empowerment is essential for inclusive economic growth, social cohesion and justice, environmental balance, and progress in all spheres of life.

Living Wage/Economic Empowerment

The ability to earn a living wage remains a significant challenge for so many women. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 44 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. Women and their families cannot afford to wait that long.

In Bergen County, women are 51.6% of the population. We are almost half of the workforce. Women are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families. We receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2015, female full-time workers in NJ made 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio. The wage gap is much worse for women of color. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, African American women earn 66 cents for every dollar earned by men, and Latina women earn 54 cents.

Persistent earnings inequality for working women translates to higher rates of poverty. In NJ, women experience higher poverty rates than men. If women in NJ received equal pay with comparable men, poverty for working women would be reduced by half.

In addition, according to AAUW’s 2016 report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Wage Gap, wage discrimination lowers total lifetime earnings, thereby reducing women’s benefits from Social Security and pension plans and inhibiting their ability to save not only for retirement but also for other lifetime goals such as buying a home and paying for a college education. New research calculates that the pay inequity shortfall in women’s earnings is about $210,000 over a 35-year working life.

Wage inequalities are not simply a result of women’s qualifications or choices. Wage discrimination persists despite women’s increased educational attainment, greater level of experience in the workforce, and decreased amount of time spent out of the workforce raising children, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.

  • Education – Although the number of women attaining baccalaureate and advanced degrees now surpasses the number of men, it has not translated into equal income. A typical college-educated woman earns $39,263 a year compared to $57,714 for college-educated male workers — a difference of $18,451.
  • Experience – The pay gap between college-educated men and women appears within the first year after college — even when women are working full-time in the same fields as men with the same major —and continues to widen during the first ten years in the workforce.
  • Child care – Women spend more time in the workforce than ever before. In fact, 60 percent of women with children under the age of three and 77 percent of mothers with school-age children remain in the workforce. Time spent out of the workforce is not enough to account for the persistent wage gap that women experience.
  • The availability of affordable, high quality child care can help women better balance their work and caregiving responsibilities without putting their children’s well-being or their own jobs at risk. However, women of low-income currently use 35.9% of their income to cover the cost of child care. Enabling more women to work by improving access to child care can help mitigate the gender wage gap and reduce a mother’s likelihood of going on public assistance. Lower costs and increased access to child care can lead to a decrease in the number of women leaving employment and an increase in the rate of entering employment, enabling mothers to keep working when they want or need to do so.

    According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, women are working longer to make up for lower retirement savings over their careers. Labor force participation among women 55 to 64 climbed from 53% to 59% in 2015. Unfortunately, while women were somewhat more likely than men to work for employers offering retirement plans, they’re often not eligible due to working less than full time.

    As a result, women are 80% more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and up, while women 75 to 79 are three times more likely. As a result, social security is an important source of income.

    FYI…some additional tidbits

  • Only 21% of senior management are females
  • Only 5% of managing partners in law firms are women
  • Women CEOs are 4.6% of the top executives of S&P 500 corporations
  • Only 19% of elected government leaders are women.
  • Safe, Affordable Housing

    Numerous occupations in NJ – social service workers, dental lab technicians, emergency dispatchers, and preschool teachers, accounting clerks, child care workers, home health aides, school bus drivers, security guards, janitors, hairstylists, receptionists, and cahiers – all pay less than the wage needed to make housing affordable.

    According to New Jersey Out of Reach 2016, the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Bergen County is $1,440. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income (a widely accepted standard of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development), a household must earn $57,600 annually. Based on a 40-hour work week, this level of income translates into a wage of $26.52 an hour. The minimum wage in NJ is $8.38 and the mean wage for a NJ renter is $16.98 an hour. At minimum wage, a female single-head of household would have to work 127 hours per week or 3.2 full time jobs a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. At the median wage, she would have to work 64 hours a week or 1.6 jobs.

    In addition to having one of the highest priced rental housing markets in the United States, New Jersey is also the state with the most foreclosures according to In Bergen County, 4,267 housing units faced foreclosure filings last year, ranging from a lender’s notice that the homeowner is in default on the mortgage all the way through to sale of the property at sheriff’s auction. That’s up 59 percent from 2014. 

    The dramatic increase in foreclosures and the resultant high cost and competition for rentals has impacted homeless in our community. On the night of February 3, 2015 when the Point in Time survey, a count of the homeless population, was conducted in Bergen County there were 340 people experiencing homelessness (26% were families), 66 were children under age 18. While that number is significantly less than years past, the length of time that households remain homeless has increased by 22%. Section 8 waiting lists for housing subsidies are currently closed.

    Access to Health Care

    Improving health care has long been a priority for women, reflecting their experiences as patients, mothers, and caregivers. Women, on average, have far more contact with the health care system over their lifetimes than do men. The health care needs of women are greater, especially during their reproductive years, and historically women have played a central role in coordinating health care for family members, from spouses and children to aging parents.

    According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Affordable Care Act is a great advancement. Coverage gains for women have been particularly rapid and as a result, the reduction in the uninsured rate has been larger for women than for men in NJ. Coverage is also now providing preventative services without cost sharing for things like FDA approved contraceptive methods, breast feeding support and supplies, well-woman visits, recommended cancer screenings, etc. And, care is increasingly coordinated so women who are caregivers don’t have to shoulder unmanageable burdens. For example, no child under the age of 19 can be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition and young adults can now remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26 – more than 68,000 in NJ. NJ Family Care, a federal and state funded health insurance program for low-income individuals and families has increased enrollment in NJ to 1,760,487 (children, adults and seniors) as of June 2016 from 614,187. Quite simply, reform is making affordable, quality health care more of a reality for women and their families.

    Issues that remain of concern are the continued spikes in the cost of coverage (11% in 2016). NJ individual market premiums are the highest in the country – $473 compared to $265 on average nationally. NJ’s employer based premiums are the second highest in the US ($19,143 vs. $17,702). Additionally, the New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report that illustrates the huge fiscal impact of surprise out-of-network bills. The report estimates 168,000 people in NJ receive out-of-network medical bills each year, with the total owed by consumers estimated at $420 million. That averages out to about $2,500 out-of-network bill per patient. Seventy-one percent of those who received these surprise medical bills report being unaware the provider was out-of-network.

    FYI…an additional tidbit

  • Women devote 2 to 10 times more time than men to caregiving.
  • Help in Time of Crisis

    Violence Against Women

    Despite some of the strongest laws in the nation, the numbers of cases of gender-based violence and sexual assaults are still shocking. Three million American women are beaten each year by their present or former intimate partners. In fact, battery is the single greatest cause of serious injury to women — more than auto accidents, rapes, and muggings combined. Because domestic violence happens behind closed doors, many women who are beaten by their husbands or partners suffer in silence, sometimes for years, before seeking counseling or legal assistance.

    According to the NJ State Police Uniform Crime Report there were 3,591 incidents of domestic violence reported in Bergen County. 1,168 resulted in arrests. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office reports that 8 of 10 homicides in our community are domestic crimes.

    The FBI estimates that one rape is committed in this country every six minutes. And because so many rapes go unreported, many officials believe the true rate in the United States is at least twice this official rape count. The National Crime Survey estimates that of the known rapes, 58 percent were committed by someone the victim knew, including a spouse or boyfriend, and 35 percent took place in the victim’s own home. One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college.


    We know that about half of all marriages will end in divorce and that it is costly for women. Recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to receive public assistance than recently divorced men (23% vs. 15%), more likely to be in poverty (22% vs. 11%) and more likely to have less household income. During this same period, 27% of women had less than $25,000 in annual household income compared with 17% of recently divorced men. Women were also more likely to be living in a multi-generational household. In Bergen County, 69,583 households are headed by women. Of the 25,129 single parent households, 20,087 were female heads of households.

    Requests for Help from 2-1-1

    In NJ, the United Way’s 2-1-1 system is the front door to services and a lifeline for those who simply do not know where to turn in times of crisis and confusion. Over the last 12 months, the system handled 180,381 calls for help – 72% were from women calling for assistance for themselves or a family member.

    There were another 500,000 unique visitors (whose gender is undetermined) to the website.

    The facts collected as a result of those inquiries make 2-1-1 data an essential tool for identifying emerging needs in real time and making it possible to then direct resources to where they will do the most good.

    Here is a snapshot of this year’s 2-1-1 data:

  • 46% of all calls and web visits were for help with the most basic of needs – food, a safe and warm place to live, and healthcare.
  • 20% of those requests for help were from individuals and families seeking temporary financial assistance for their most urgent needs – everything from housing to medical expenses to child care to a car repair so they could continue working.
  • On top of that, another 6% were from those who sought assistance exclusively with payment of their utility bills to prevent shut-off and, another 5% who sought help because they were food insecure – they did not have food for themselves and/or their children/family. Requests were primarily for emergency food packages, food stamps and also meals-on-wheels for older adults and the disabled.
  • Another 15% of all requests were from those desperately seeking housing stability – everything from emergency shelter to rental assistance to home sharing to foreclosure prevention to assisted living for seniors and supportive housing for individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • Other significant volume included requests for help with government assistance (4% – including long-term recovery from Superstorm Sandy), layoff assistance (2%), and physical and mental health care (2%). Requests for help with mental health needs included feeling isolated, severe emotional distress, suicide, bereavement, parent/child conflicts, etc. The greatest number of requests for mental health services came from Bergen County.

    — Gina Plotino, Founding Member, Women United in Philanthropy