The state of New York is rightly investing in the economic revitalization of New York by committing $100.3 million to Buffalo. While the YWCAs across New York applaud this considerable investment, we want to make sure that women, 51 percent of the population living in Western New York, are not forgotten in the deal.
Buffalo is no stranger to hard economic times. A close look at the statistics uncovers a disturbing economic picture of women in the region. The poorest of the poor are single mothers. Census data from 2010 show women make only 75 cents to every male dollar in Western New York, falling short of state and national gender wage gaps.
Yet what's most troubling is poverty among Western New Yorkers. Among all families, the poverty rate is 10.1 percent. That statistic jumps to a staggering 41 percent if you are a single mother with a child under the age of 5.
If we are going to turn around the economic situation in Western New York, we must address the way we train and prepare women for good-paying jobs in the new economy. Changing the economic situation of women-led families changes the region's economy. Yet, without the means to improve their skills and move to higher-paying jobs, women cannot change the economic situation for their families.
Every day, the six YWCAs in the western region of New York are dedicated to the mission of bettering lives -- one woman at a time. But that's not enough. What we need is for the community to understand the larger impact of the gender wage gap and persistent poverty. And, as a community, we must collectively work to improve the economic status of women.
That is the YWCA focus for 2012. New York YWCAs have joined together to identify social and economic justice issues in an aggressive public policy agenda that we are personally delivering to legislators.
We're looking at critical issues around work force development, pay equity, racial disparities and women's health, which are acutely evident in Western New York. Because of the widening wage gap, the number of women living in poverty is growing at an unsustainable rate. YWCAs are working hard, despite cuts in funding, to empower women economically and to assist them in finding a way to get the right job skills for the new economy.
Therefore, we are asking local economic leaders and elected officials to dive deep into the economic indicators and work together to find new, creative ways to help 51 percent of Western New York's work force. Bottom line: Improving women's wages improves our local economy. And that's the best deal to strike for our region.
For more than a century, the YWCA has spoken out and taken action on behalf of women and girls around the country and the world. More than 2 million people participate each year in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 locations across the United States.
Joelle Logue is president of the YWCA Northeast Region.