Women are increasingly their families’ primary breadwinners, yet continue to earn less than their male counterparts, are segregated into the lowest wage occupations, and lack the supports necessary to balance work and family obligations. WOW’s research finds that single mothers and their children disproportionately face economic insecurity: 69% of white single mothers, 80% of black single mothers and 85% of Hispanic single mothers lack the incomes needed to afford the cost of basic expenses. In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama stressed how critical women’s economic security is to their families’, communities’, and our nation’s well being. In fact, the president agreed that “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.”
Despite these commitments, the president’s proposed 2015 budget proposes eliminating the ONLY workforce program that is dedicated to providing opportunities for women to prepare for and enter high-wage, nontraditional jobs. Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations, or WANTO, supports community-based organizations that provide training to women in pre-apprenticeship programs and technical assistance to employers and labor unions.
WANTO is critical federal workforce program because it addresses one of the principal sources of women’s economic insecurity: occupational segregation. The majority of US women do not work in jobs where they have an opportunity to get by, let alone get ahead. Today, fifty percent of women are concentrated in just 26 occupational categories, or only five percent of the 504 occupations tracked by Bureau of Labor Statistics, and over two-thirds of women are concentrated in just 51 occupations. Today, as was true 60 years ago, ‘secretary’ ranks as the top occupational category for women. Other leading occupations include cashiers, retail salespersons, home health aides, and jobs in the hospitality sectors, such as waitresses and housekeepers at hotels. Many of these jobs are our economy’s fastest-growing and the lowest-paying. With average wages of between $8 and $12, these jobs do not enable women to afford the basics, let alone care for their families. Men, on the other hand, with similar levels of education are much more likely than women to access training in the trades or STEM fields, which generally offer higher pay and better career prospects.
Gender stereotypes and women’s lack of knowledge and awareness of these jobs and their entry paths are significant obstacles to increasing their representation in these fields. Women may also lack the preparatory skills to be competitive in the selection process, and selection requirements and procedures still have a disparate and unfair impact on women’s acceptance into apprenticeship programs. Still worse, women who overcome these barriers and enter these field often find discriminatory practices ranging from minimal support, inequitable training, hostile work conditions and job opportunities limited by employer hiring bias. Programs that support women throughout this process, which is the work offered by many of the groups funded by WANTO, can help women succeed in these jobs – a real pathway out of poverty for these women and their families.
Overcoming the historical and cultural obstacles that prevent women from accessing these higher wage nontraditional careers is challenging and requires direct interventions. Targeted, effective workforce programs, such as WANTO, are critical to the success of individuals and communities facing these significant barriers to employment. WANTO provides the needed specialized technical assistance to address these barriers, which other WIA and workforce programs cannot and do not offer.
And despite its modest funding level, WANTO has consistently produced outsized impact. In a recent grant year, trainees enjoyed a job placement rate after their WANTO participation of nearly 90 percent. An independent study has shown that when programs funded by one of the two federal grant initiatives that supported nontraditional training for women, (the Nontraditional Employment for Women Act and WANTO), was implemented in an area, local women were 25% more likely to hold a nontraditional job, and that even in years after the policy intervention, women were still more likely to hold nontraditional jobs. For example, in 2006 alone, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) provided 4,525 women with information about high-skill, high-wage nontraditional careers. CWIT’s WANTO-funded programming enabled 66 women to enroll in CWIT’s Technical Opportunities Program and 88 women to enroll in apprenticeship programs. These women earned average wages of $14.28 an hour – more than 25 percent higher than the national median hourly earnings for women that same year.
Addressing the challenges that women face in today’s labor market is a key strategy for restoring security and opportunity to America’s families and workers. WOW strongly encourages President Obama to reconsider his proposed elimination of WANTO. This lone and effective program dedicated to promoting opportunities for women in nontraditional jobs is is a critical strategy for building women’s economic security, promoting diversity in our future workforce and ensuring America’s success.