WASHINGTON–After close to a decade of economic growth, women are optimistic, yet uncertain. They are more optimistic about economic opportunities today than they were four years ago, but many say the economic boom is passing them by, according to a nationwide poll conducted by a bipartisan team of researchers.

Those most often being left behind are unmarried, lower-income women without a college education, the poll shows.

Consistently in election-year polls since 1992, women have said two of their top economic concerns are equal pay and benefits and flexibility to balance family and work.

Questions about abortion and reproductive rights were not asked in the poll.

“Women want more economic control over their lives,” says Linda Tarr-Whelan, president of the Center for Policy Alternatives, which along with Lifetime Television commissioned the poll and study, “Women’s Voices 2000,” released here Wednesday. Similar polls were conducted in the two previous election cycles, in 1992 and 1996.

Women and men call for greater government role to help working families

The poll found increased support among women and men for a government role in helping working families.

Two-thirds of the women asked, in telephone interviews August 22 to August 29, said they have a lot of control over their daily lives, but a majority said they have little control over their current economic situation. Those with a college education and higher incomes felt they had more control, while women with no college and lower incomes felt they had less.

The poll indicates that education is a strong predictor as to how women view economic possibilities, said Celinda Lake, a leading Democratic pollster who helped conduct the poll.

College-educated women also were much more likely than women with no college to see more economic opportunity. The more education a woman had, the more likely she was to see the economy in positive terms.

Also being left behind are single mothers with children under 18. Only a third of them said the economic boom was reaching them, compared with nearly half of married mothers with children.

Left behind by the boom: single mothers with children under 18

Education along with retirement and Social Security topped women’s list of concerns, followed by the economy and jobs, moral decline, health care and taxes. Crime and violence was the last category on their list and was considerably less of a concern than it was in 1996.

Men’s concerns tracked closely those of the women who were surveyed, though they were more concerned than women about taxes and less about the economy and jobs, according to the poll.

Similar numbers of women and men, 6 in 10, said they were concerned about the growing economic gap between rich and poor. But 58 percent of women said they were worried or very worried about making ends meet and paying everyday expenses, compared with 46 percent of men.

“Women’s concerns are still rooted in their pocketbooks,” said Linda DiVall, a leading Republican pollster who helped conduct the poll, at a news conference where the poll results and report were released.

More than 6 in 10 women are employed or self-employed, and the vast majority are working full time. More than a third of women say they earn more than half of their total household income.

Men and women alike were concerned about a moral decline and lack of family values among Americans, and 4 in 10 say that parents spending more time with their children would do the most to strengthen values.

But women are significantly more worried now than they were four years ago about balancing family and work, and by a 3-to-1 margin, women say that benefits–including family leave, flexible hours and child care–are more important to them than wages when choosing a job.

Top issue for women: equal pay and benefits

Among the policy issues they were asked about, 72 percent of women cited equal pay and benefits as their top pick, followed by retirement benefits that go from job to job, affordable health care, increasing the minimum wage, strong gun laws and increased training and education in technology.

Some of the poll’s findings may help explain the lead Vice President Al Gore maintains over Republican George W. Bush among women voters, particularly because of a stronger desire among women for a government role in helping solve some of their problems, said Tarr-Whelan of the Center for Policy Alternatives.

The latest poll on the presidential race by Tarrance Group and Lake Snelling Perry & Associates shows Gore nine points ahead of Bush among women voters and Bush 13 points ahead of Gore among men. The poll shows the two candidates in a virtual tie, 42 percent for Bush to 41 percent for Gore. Twelve percent is undecided.

The Women’s Voices 2000 survey is based on telephone interviews with 1,576 men and women. The women’s sample has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points and the men’s margin of error is 4.9 percent.

Deborah Mesce is a free-lance writer and former Washington correspondent for The Associated Press.

For more information, visit:

The Center for Policy Alternatives: http://www.stateaction.org/

Lifetime Television: http://lifetimetv.com/