Kansas women struggle to enter the workforce because of lack of child care and pay gap
Kansas women have a larger pay inequity than the national average. Advocates say the state's child care shortage is exacerbating the problem. (Getty Images)
TOPEKA — Kansas women need pay equity and more help with child care, a women’s advocacy group said after compiling feedback from hundreds of women around the state.
United WE, an nonprofit organization dedicated to improving women’s economic and social status, partnered with the League of Kansas Municipalities to set up seven town hall discussions from June to August.
Using the feedback they got from these town hall discussions, in which 536 people participated, United WE found that more than 50 percent of the interviewed women were responsible for child care. The organization discussed its findings in a Zoom meeting Tuesday.
The organization conducted a 2021 report on the status of women in Kansas in partnership with the University of Kansas. The report found that many women have been struggling to hold jobs with a lack of adequate child care.
Kansas infant care costs take up 29 percent of women’s median earnings, the report found, and Kansas has twice the number of children younger than 5 than available licensed child care spots available for them. Paid leave was reported as a significant issue for a majority of Kansas women, as many have to use unpaid time off or sick leave to care for their families.
United WE president Wendy Doyle said the state is currently facing extreme child care shortages: More than 300 child care facilities closed during the pandemic, with no plans of reopening. Doyle said in some parts of the state, families are having to cobble together three different child care providers to have their children cared for during the work week.
“We are in a child care crisis for the state of Kansas,” Doyle said.
Kansas Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, addressed the shortage of child care during the Zoom discussion. Faust-Goudeau said she was working with three Black women who operate daycare services in her district. All three women had their facilities shut down by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for minor issues, she said.
She said one woman was written up for not having a roll of toilet paper in the toilet paper dispenser, though she immediately replaced the empty roll and had a stock of toilet paper stored in the bathroom. Faust-Goudeau said the rules should be examined during the upcoming legislative session.
“All of those three daycare providers here in the 29th District were African American women, and all of those children that they were providing for, the parents had to do something quick to get that child care to go to work. Our Legislature wants people to go to work, but it’s so hard to do without them having proper child care,” Faust-Goudeau said.
Doyle said the organization planned on examining licensing requirements for child care providers. Doyle said they had heard from several child care providers struggling with the requirements for licensing and inspection of the facilities.
“One of the reasons why we want to look at the licensing requirements is that it makes it cumbersome to even open a business,” Doyle said.
Women also had low civic engagement, with few women running for office in the state, the report found. Women made up only 28 percent of Kansas state legislators. United We said they had 110 women interested in learning more about civic leadership roles after the town hall series.
Another area of concern was pay inequity. The average U.S. full-time female employee earns 82 cents to her male equivalent’s dollar. The pay gap is wider in Kansas, where women earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar. Women in Kansas have more education than Kansas men, and have a higher education level than the average for U.S. men, but hold less leadership roles than the average U.S. man.
Work environments also tend to be stressful for Kansas women, with 64 percent reporting that they had negative experiences, such as harassment or discrimination, in the workplace.
June Huie, an independent business owner, said she often acted as a mentor to women looking to become entrepreneurs. She said she was asked often about why men were oblivious to the struggles of their female counterparts in the workforce, especially men who were high-ranking employees and could make changes in the workplace structure.
“There’s just so many things that seem to impact women so much more than men. And we want to know where to start. Who do we start with?” Huie said.
Huie said she’s been bringing up her concerns to Sedgwick County city council members and county commissioners, but wasn’t satisfied with their responses. Huie said a partisan divide was also making it difficult to address women’s issues.
“They shake their heads: ‘Yeah, we understand it’s a problem, blah, blah, blah.’ And then they promptly go and vote absolutely against anything that they say, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it other than un-elect them,” Huie said. “But we have that whole conservative versus progressive mindset that’s giving us some considerable difficulty here in Sedgwick County.”
This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.