Lifting Tucson up and out of its current slump could be as simple as this: Provide more support and opportunities for women and children.

A recently released report, “Supporting Arizona Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency,” shows that providing affordable child care to women, and high-quality early education to young children, are the best ways to help everyone.

The third critical component? Greater access to higher education, as the poverty rate for women who lack a high school diploma is six times higher than for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Tucson is far from this ideal, as this report and a recent Arizona Daily Star analysis of local poverty shows.

Right now, some families in Tucson pay more for child care than they do for rent, said Laura Penny, executive director of the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, which requested the report along with the Phoenix-based Arizona Foundation for Women.

“What I thought was the most dramatic finding was that the primary reason women are poor is because they are singularly responsible for raising children,” she said, referring to the finding that close to 79 percent of single-parent families headed by women live in poverty.

A critical question, she said, is how to ensure Tucson’s children “grow up to be productive, upstanding citizens who contribute to society and break their family’s cycle of poverty.”

The report is based on research by the Grand Canyon Institute, a nonprofit organization led by a bipartisan group of former state lawmakers as well as economists, community leaders and educators.

It explored workforce participation, education, occupation, responsibility for children and homeownership. It also documents and analyzes Arizona’s general fund budget cuts from 2007 to 2012. (View the report at It found :

  • Women are far more likely than men to be out of the workforce and to have low-paying jobs.
  • Women are far more likely than men to be singularly responsible for children.
  • Most low-income women rent, rather than own, their homes.

In August, the Arizona Daily Star’s poverty series found that while the recession hurt communities across the nation, it hit especially hard here, and women and children were suffering most. Cuts to cash assistance, federal grants and child-support subsidies left many families without support or the ability to move forward.

This was aggravated by Tucson’s job market, which is dominated by a service industry that pays barely livable wages and often offers only part-time jobs. Compared with U.S. and state averages, we also have a higher percentage of single-parent households.

Penny said the magnitude of the state’s budget cuts since the recession is sobering.

“Granted, we were in a recession. But as the state’s economy is returning to normal, where’s the best place to invest our limited public dollars?” she asked.

The report will be sent to Arizona’s legislators today.

“The question is not, ‘Can we afford these programs?’” she said. “We can’t afford not to fund them. The return, economically and socially, is so great.”

The Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce is requesting funding for child care subsidies as part of its 2014 legislative agenda , said Bruce Dusenberry, a chamber board member and former chair.

Dusenberry said providing funding for high-quality early childhood education is another move he strongly supports.

“I think most any study you find will show it’s one of the best investments we can make,” he said.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at or 806-7754.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at or 806-7754.