Women are increasingly the chief breadwinners of their families. Women who are beginning careers as entrepreneurs are making women’s jobs, and their access to start-up funds, a critical component to the nation’s economic recovery, according to a White House report released Oct. 21.

“The economy has changed where women have made such enormous strides that they now constitute fully half of the workforce,” President Obama said in remarks accompanying the release of the report. “They actually constitute probably more than half of the money that’s coming in to middle-class families. And business—small business owners are now a much higher proportion women than they used to be. And so when you talk about what’s happened to the middle class, part of what you’re talking about is what’s happening to women in the workforce.”

According to the National Economic Council’s “Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women,’’ in 2008, 62 percent of married couples were dual-income households with the mother as the primary or co-breadwinner. Also, as of December 2009, 2.1 million women whose husbands were unemployed were working as the primary revenue earners for their families and 6.1 million single mothers are the sole providers for their households. Additionally, women own 30 percent or 7.8 million American small businesses that generated sales of over $1.2 trillion in 2007—an increase of 46 percent since 1997—and created roughly 500,000 jobs in those 10 years.

Still, women face unique challenges. Since the economic slump began in December 2007, female unemployment has increased from 2.7 million to 6.2 million. And their economic stability has been further jeopardized by the foreclosure crisis and the shortfall in social services.

Women who are employed, especially minorities and women with disabilities, face a wage gap, earning an average of 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. And a glass ceiling still exists, cutting them off from upper management positions: only 2.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by a female CEO and only 15.2 percent of those companies have board seats occupied by women. Furthermore, at the country’s top 100 law firms, only 17 percent of equity partners are women and only 1 in 14 women earn over $100,000 a year, compared with 1 in 7 men.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) praised the Obama administration and Congress for the steps they have taken to address these challenges, including increasing aid for teachers, extending unemployment benefits, providing tax cuts for working families and awarding 12,000 Small Business
Administration loans under the Recovery Act to women-owned businesses. But, it added, “There is more to do.”

“Making sure that workers with care responsibilities earn a fair day’s pay and can thrive at work is a critical step in supporting families through the recession,” CAP senior economist Heather Boushey said in a statement. She added that the result has been the halt of job erosion from local bureaucracies and that “staunching the bleeding of jobs from state and local governments “would go a long way toward stemming the tide of rising joblessness for women.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO