California women face persistent gender and racial barriers; it’s time to work for more equity


By Kristin Schumacher; Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CalMatters,

Californians are casting their votes and making important choices about revenue for local communities, ending the ban on affirmative action, restoring justice for families and selecting our next elected leaders. The ballot decisions and questions come down to: What California do we want for our families and communities?

For California women the stakes are particularly high. Women, especially Black, Latinx and Native American women, make significant contributions to the social and economic well-being of our communities, the state’s economy and our own households. Yet, our own well-being is suffering.  

A new resource from the California Budget & Policy Center shows California women face persistent gender and racial barriers in accessing economic security, physical and mental health care, and representation in elected positions. These barriers exist across the state’s 58 counties.

One in 10 women do not have health insurance, and 17% of Latinx women do not have health insurance compared to 5.6% of white women. Roughly 1 in 3 Native American women did not receive adequate prenatal care. 

Women living in counties in the San Joaquin Valley, Northern Sacramento Valley, North Coast and in the Inland Empire fare worse compared to women in other regions of the state, according to findings in the California Women’s Well-Being Index.

Why should every Californian care? Because when women thrive, our families, communities, economy and democracy prosper. 

California has significant work ahead to end the sexist and racist policies that lock out Asian, Black, Latinx, Native American and Pacific Islander women, and other women of color from accessing the opportunities they need to thrive.  

The current public health crisis and recession show us that the health and economic security of a household are intimately connected. Latinx women working full-time, year-round earn 42 cents for every dollar earned by white men in California. That wage gap quickly becomes life threatening when any crisis hits, rent is due and food needs to be put on the table.

And the recession is only compounding racial wealth and gender gaps for households. A recent report by the California Budget & Policy Center found that at the worst point of the recession so far, 1 in 4 women were out of work and the unemployment rate reached 20% or more for Asian, Black, Latinx and other Californians of color.

Where does California go from here? 

We need meaningful investments and targeted policies from our state and local elected leaders that will tear down the sexist and racist barriers facing women while also investing in our communities.

We know these changes are possible. This year, the California Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded job protections for workers who need time off to care for themselves, a sick loved one or a newborn. California is also working to close its race and gender pay gap requiring California employers with 100 or more employees to report compensation and hours by gender, race, ethnicity, and job category. And the state expanded the California Earned Income Tax Credit to Californians regardless of citizenship status, ending a racist policy that blocked families in low-income households from receiving tax credits they earned to support their households.

These policy advances are significant for our communities and women. But California has a long road ahead. Access to comprehensive health care and safe and affordable child care must be top priorities for our state. Working from home is a privilege afforded to far fewer Latinx and Black workers. Too often it’s women forced into impossible choices – needing to work, their own health put at risk and having no care for kids or sick family members.

The pandemic, recession and wildfires have tested our resolve as Californians. Understanding the well-being of California women is another wake up call that it’s time to make decisions that help us build a more just and equitable future for all Californians – especially for women of color.


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