Wage Gap, Poverty, Bias Harm Women's Health

Monday, December 4, 2000

The community where a woman lives affects virtually all aspects of her health and well-being. A national "Report Card" analyzed state efforts in economic security, education, discrimination, gun control and the environment. Last in a series.

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Health Affected by Education, Bias, Wages, Environment

"These are commonly accepted measures of the health of our community and nation and what we found is very disappointing," said Sharon Levin, senior counsel for the National Women's Law Center.

Besides assessing the level of women's economic security, the report examined how education, discrimination, gun control and the environment affect women's health. The results in these areas were not particularly encouraging.

On the education front, only four states--Alaska, Utah, Washington and Wyoming--had 90 percent or more of women graduate from high school. The 35 states that were within 10 percent of that goal received a "U" for unsatisfactory. And, 11 states received an "F" for failing to come within 10 percent of the benchmark. The nation as a whole received a "U."

"There are still a lot of women in this country who don't complete high school," Levin noted. "This is a basic step for being able to take care of yourself in this society. If you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of your health."

Since discrimination can harm women's health by creating barriers to health care services and insurance, the Report Card examined whether states have comprehensive laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and genetic information.

Only eight states--California, Connecticut, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin--had outlawed both kinds of discrimination.

Common Sense Gun Control Would Reduce Women's Deaths, Injuries

The authors said effective gun control laws were another way to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries to women. Specifically, states should enact "common sense measures," which would require licensing and waiting periods, require safe storage and prohibit concealed handguns, the authors said. No state has adopted all three restrictions, but the District of Columbia has banned handguns.

Nine states--California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri and New Jersey--had adopted a strong combination of many of these restrictions, while 18 states have weaker or fewer strictures on guns.

Because exposure to toxins contributes to illness, disability and death, the Report Card assessed the states' monitoring efforts for six health conditions: lead poisoning, mercury poisoning, pesticide poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, acute chemical poisoning and asthma.

The Report Card found that no state monitors all six conditions and only four states--Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico and Wisconsin--check for five of those conditions.

Improving public transportation would also aid women's health by making it easier for women to reach their health care providers and jobs and reducing toxic pollution caused by cars, the Report Card said. Yet, the state average annual per capita spending for public transportation ranged from about $675 per urban resident in New Jersey to less than $2 per urban resident in Mississippi.

Melinda Voss has a master's degree in public health. She was a long-time reporter for The Des Moines Register. She now teaches journalism at the University of Minnesota.

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