With ongoing debate on how our economy is doing, we at the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona are staying focused on the fact that we still have a long way to go for the women and children in our community. As the new CEO of the Women’s Foundation, where our mission is investing in women to create change, I ask that as we go into 2019: Keep paying attention.
I’ve spent much of this last week at the state capitol, meeting with legislators and testifying to encourage our lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 1173. In a nutshell, this bill would allow parents and caregivers receiving childcare benefits to enroll in educational programs.
SB 1173 is good for women. It’s good for children. It’s good for business. It’s good for all of us.
At the Women’s Foundation, we know that generational poverty is alive and well, and that it’s even more difficult for women—and particularly women of color—to break the cycle. This isn’t about whether or not people work hard; it’s about how our systems are structured in a way that puts some of us at a significant disadvantage that starts at birth. And, while women and girls represent most of our world’s poor, we know that investing in them yields the largest impact. In fact, studies have reported that women multiply an impact of an investment made in their future by extending benefits to the world around them, creating a better life for their families and building a strong community (USAID). With the Women’s Foundation, for every dollar that was invested, $6.62 was created for women across Southern Arizona.
Here in Arizona, 89 percent of low-income single mothers with children under six lack a post-secondary degree, which substantially limits their job prospects and earning potential—leaving them to rely on assistance benefits. Without that degree, these working moms can’t afford the high costs of childcare, where the average cost of care for a toddler is $836, nearly $150 more than the average apartment in Arizona.
This year our research has identified at least 33,000 mothers that are in the labor force and lack a post-secondary degree. We also identified 36 mid-skill, high-wage fields in Arizona accessible with no more than an Associate’s degree or certificate equivalent. This means that a single mother with a preschooler could begin on a path to financial independence without public assistance in just two years. Higher paying jobs that could move families out of poverty and into the financial security of self-sufficiency exist right now – and there are vacancies. But, in order for low-income parents to pursue training and education, affordable childcare is crucial.
Currently, our Department of Economic Security guidelines require that parents be employed for at least 20 hours per week in order to be eligible for childcare benefits. This limits the ability for individuals who currently receive such benefits to pursue educational opportunities that could lead to higher paying jobs. SB 1173 would allow parents who are currently receiving childcare subsidies to enroll in a full-time educational program.
I’ll tell you what I told the Health and Human Services Committee this week. If we pass SB 1173, it will benefit Arizona in three ways: More families would be able to get out of the cycle of poverty; we’d create an increased pool of talent for Arizona employers; and the state can save nearly $20,000 per family from parents who no longer need public assistance.
When low-income women and families achieve economic independence, everyone wins. It’s time we make it happen: it’s time to change the way we think about doing what’s right.
Many families in Arizona, particularly single mothers with young children, face substantial challenges in meeting their economic needs – but we can change that. SB 1173 would be a huge step in the right direction, but work remains to be done. Together, let’s continue to set the example here in Southern Arizona and invest in futures of women and girls.
Amalia Luxardo is the Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona.