While Virginia women have seen child care costs skyrocket over the last twenty years, wages have lagged behind and the gender wage gap has narrowed by only four cents, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). 

Child care costs in the Commonwealth have increased by nearly 40% over the last two decades, but the average Virginia woman’s wage has grown by only 5%, the report found.

These minimal economic gains underscore the many issues facing Virginian women

Beyond wages and child care, the study also examined women’s protection from sexual harassment and access to abortion and found “a decidedly mixed environment facing women, one that requires public policy solutions and the commitment of leaders in Virginia – and nationally – to address.”

Julie Kohler, Jasmine Tucker, and Morgan Harwood of the National Women’s Law Center authored the report. 

Here’s a break-down of what they found:

Wages

Women are now paid 81 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man, but that number is even lower for women of color. Black women earn 60 cents for every dollar a white man earns, Latinx women earn only 53 cents, and Native women earn 65 cents. 

Due to the gender wage gap, the average Virginia woman stands to lose out on roughly $480,000 in wages over a 40-year career. Black and Native women lose more than $1 million.

“In order to ‘catch up’ to what the typical white, non-Hispanic Virginia man is paid by age 60, the typical Virginia woman would need to work 11 years longer — or until age 71,” the authors wrote.

Virginia women are also more than two times as likely as men to work in low-wage jobs, make up 59% of the state’s minimum wage workers, and make up a majority of the state’s tipped workers, who earn a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour.

Child care

While womens’ wages have increased only slightly, the cost for full-time childcare has surged by nearly 40% in the last ten years, the report found.

The annual cost of “full-time, center-based care infant care” in Virginia rose by 37% from 2009 to 2017 (from $10,040 to $13,728 in inflation-adjusted 2017 dollars), while the average cost of center-based care for four-year-olds increased by 39% (from $7,605 to $10,608 in inflation-adjusted 2017 dollars).

Since the average full-time working woman in Virginia earned less than $44,000 in 2017, the cost of child care ate up 31.3% of women’s earnings.

“The prohibitive costs of child care force parents to make impossible choices between paying for care or paying for other necessities such as housing and food,” the report reads.

Sexual harassment

Eighty-five percent of women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to the study. 

Once again, women of color suffer disproportionately; they make up only 37% of women in the workforce, but 56% of women who filed sexual harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) between 2012 and 2016. During that same time frame, black women were almost three times as likely as white, non-Hispanic women to file sexual harassment charges with the EEOC.

The NWLC found that sexual harassment also starts long before women enter the workplace. The organization’s 2017 Let Her Learn Survey found that more than one-in-five girls ages 14 to 18 reported being kissed or touched without their consent. The survey also found that more than one in five female college students is sexually assaulted. 

Despite these high rates of sexual harassment, reporting rates remain low and only 6-13% of individuals file a formal complaint.

As to why reporting rates remain so law, the authors of the report wrote that “gaps in anti-harassment laws have left many of those most vulnerable to sexual harassment with insufficient legal protections.” They went on to say that state and federal law both focus on “remedying harassment after the fact, with little emphasis on prevention.”

Access to abortion

Over the last decade, Virginia Republicans have chipped away at abortion rights in the state, enacting “TRAP laws”, regulations that the NWLC report’s authors said “providers for medically unnecessary, burdensome restrictions that do nothing to promote patient safety.” 

These regulations – which are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit – include the “two-trip” law, which requires that most women wait at least 24 hours after an initial ultrasound before having an abortion, as well as a requirement that second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital. 

These laws forced abortion providers to come into compliance with the laws, but many providers couldn’t afford to do so and were forced to shut down, leading to a 14% decrease in the number of abortion clinics in Virginia.

As a result, first trimester abortion care is only available in Virginia’s urban centers, with 92% of Virginia’s counties – where 80% of Virginia women live – without an abortion clinic, according to the NWLC.

“The impact falls hardest on those who already face multiple barriers to care, such as women struggling to make ends meet, women of color, rural women, and women who already have children,” the report reads. 

Conclusion

The NWLC report made several recommendations for resolving the issues it examined. 

The authors of the report called for a $15 minimum wage, indexed to inflation and stronger equal pay laws to close the gender wage gap and increase womens’ wages. They also called on lawmakers to “significantly increase public investments in child care,” improve outreach to those who need child care assistance, and expand the state preschool program.

The report also calls for stronger anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws and a repeal of Virginia’s existing restrictions on abortions. 

The authors wrap up their recommendations by calling on states to lead the way on gender justice issues. 

“At a moment in which women are investing so much in advocacy and politics, politicians have a heightened obligation to invest in women and advance an agenda that will support Virginia women and girls, especially those who face the greatest barriers to equity,” the report concludes.