WASHINGTON – Maryland is first in the nation when it comes to women’s social and economic autonomy and second in their employment and earnings, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research also said Maryland finished in the top third of states when it came to political participation and reproductive rights.
But the state got a grade of C for health and well-being, the fifth and final category rated by the Status of Women in the States report. That grade likely kept Maryland from being one of the top states for women overall, said institute President Heidi Hartmann.
Still, the president of the Women Legislators of Maryland welcomed the results of the report, which has been released every two years since 1996.
“It’s nice to be able to have a comparison of how you’re doing, to be able to go back and look at it again,” said Delegate Jean Cryor, R-Montgomery, the women’s caucus leader.
“I’m interested in how they’re (women) doing economically, in education. What are their lives like?” Cryor said. “Maryland is a state that is light years ahead of other states in many ways.”
But the state fell short in the health and well-being of women. Despite the fact that 87 percent of women in the state have health insurance — good for 18th in the nation — Maryland was dragged down by high rates of diseases inflicting women.
Maryland had the 42nd-worst breast cancer mortality rate, 39th-worst lung cancer mortality, 32nd-worst heart disease mortality and 29th-worst diabetes rates. The state was 14th-best when it came to mental health and finished fifth on suicides.
The worst score came in the incidence of AIDS: Maryland was 49th, finishing ahead of only New York state and the District of Columbia. Cryor said the state’s high rate of AIDS cases may be due to the fact that Maryland does a good job of publicizing and diagnosing the disease.
“Maybe some states don’t recognize it,” she said. “Other than being a minus, it could be a plus in that Maryland is recognizing this. It’s the same old story of being willing to look at what the situation is, as opposed to hiding from it.”
African-American women were carrying the brunt of the AIDS cases in the state, with a rate of 68.2 cases per 100,000 women, well above the national average of 49 cases. C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the National Women’s Alliance, said that although AIDS education has increased across the country, black women have not been targeted and this is reflected in the research.
Otherwise, the state did relatively well in the report. Among its findings:
— Maryland moved past the District to grab first place on social and economic autonomy, but the state still only got a B+ grade. The 92 percent of women living above poverty in Maryland was second-highest in the nation, while the 29 percent of women owning businesses was third-highest. The state had the fourth-highest rate of women with four or more years of college, at 30 percent.
— The state also got a B+ in employment and earnings, trailing only the District. Sixty-four percent of Maryland women are in the labor force, and 41 percent of them have managerial or professional jobs, the second-highest percentage in the country. The median annual income of $37,200 for Maryland working women was just 81 percent of what men earn, but that was still higher than the national average of 76 percent.
— Maryland got a C+ for political participation, falling from sixth place in 2002 to 11th place this year. While the 65 percent of women registered to vote was only 33rd in the nation, Maryland had the 16th-highest voter turnout for women, 54 percent of whom voted in 1998 and 2000. Maryland fell from eighth to 12th for the number of women in elected office, but the state tied with Georgia for the most number of black women legislators, at 18 each.
— Maryland slipped on reproductive rights, falling from third place — a position it had held since 1996 — to ninth and seeing its grade fall from A- to B. The report said the percentage of women with access to abortion providers fell from 85 percent in 2002 to 76 percent in 2004.
Women’s groups praised Maryland’s standing, but said there is room for improvement.
“It’s impressive that Maryland and the District of Columbia have been so successful in advancing issues that are of concern to women and that benefit women’s economic and social well-being,” said Allison Kimmich, executive director of the National Association of Women’s Studies. “At the same time . . . there’s always more that we can be doing as a country and as individual states for the rights of women.”
Cryor said the report would not be the last word on women’s issues but could be the start of a discussion.
“Certainly we will look at it,” she said. “It may well be that legislation would come out of it.”
-30- CNS 11-16-04