July Column, CST: Supporting women supports our economy

We talk a lot about jobs and family in Wyoming. They are the cornerstone of our lives together, the foundation of our values, and the backbone of our state.

What we don’t talk enough about is who’s holding up these essential mainstays: Wyoming women.

It is time we start that conversation. A new report that I authored with the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, the Wyoming Council for Women, and the Equality State Policy Center, with support from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center, offers a great place to begin.

Wyoming Women as Economic Drivers illuminates the essential but often invisible role women in the Equality State play in both the professional and domestic spheres — and highlights how smart policy decisions can benefit women and Wyoming as a whole. It also offers up some pretty compelling statistics that might not be on most people’s radar. For instance, women make up 90% of healthcare support staff in Wyoming and more than 70% of our state’s education employees. And the nonprofit sector — an industry dominated by female employees — accounts for 11% of Wyoming jobs. And yet even as women are driving some of the biggest — and arguably most essential — industries in the Equality State, we are also, on average, Wyoming’s lowest earners, accounting for nearly 75% of all minimum wage workers and nearly 70% of all those who earn less than $15/hour.

Consider, too, the report’s finding that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into local goods and services that benefit their families. That’s a tremendous impact on local economies — and a good reason to make sure policies support labor force attachment, business development, entrepreneurs, and strong wages for Wyoming women. As the report notes: “Women are significant drivers of Wyoming’s economy and can be utilized as a potential resource. Current policy tends to ignore women’s outsized impact as both earners and consumers. That is a missed opportunity for Wyoming.” A missed opportunity indeed. That’s because states with policies that support women’s participation in the workforce actually have stronger economies and are attracting and retaining more women and families. Simply put, the places where women and their families are choosing to move are thriving. Right now, Wyoming isn’t one of those states. But with a few policy changes, we could be. And now is the perfect moment to make change.

Governor Gordon’s handpicked “Strike Team” recently offered a road map for Wyoming’s post-pandemic recovery. Many of their goals align closely with the suggestions in Wyoming Women as Economic Drivers.

Consider the first goal: “Retain and attract working families and young adults to permanently live and raise families in Wyoming with focused efforts to improve availability of: appropriate/desired jobs and careers; appropriate training/education; stable, quality childcare; housing; necessary services; and desired recreate and leisure activities.”

This objective ties directly to our report’s recommendations, including offering paid family leave, pregnant worker protections, stable childcare, and encouraging ongoing labor force participation for women. Another key policy change that will attract and keep more women working? Ensuring they are paid “self-sufficiency wages” — or enough to live without public or private assistance. Evidence from surrounding states — all of which gained population more quickly than Wyoming over the last decade — shows that when leaders enact policies that support women and families, local and state economies thrive. Women and families are intricately tied to the strength of Wyoming’s economy, and any conversations about economic recovery or development must account for that.

Rebekah Smith of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation put it best during a recent panel discussion of Wyoming Women as Economic Drivers: “What we’ve shown in this brief is a lot of these policies we’re bringing to light are really beneficial not just to the individuals and not just to women but to businesses — and ultimately to the state.” She went on to say what we all believe and are working toward: “We all want a stronger Wyoming economy and a brighter future for our families.”

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Wyoming Women as Economic Drivers is the latest policy brief from the Wyoming Women's Foundation, Equality State Policy Center, and Wyoming Council for Women. And we're excited to say that Jen was the