We all know Tucson has been ranked among the poorest cities of its size in the nation. But now we also know that, if poverty had a face, it would be the face of a single mom.
Two-thirds of American adults who live in poverty are women; and according to a new report based on research by the Grand Canyon Institute and released by the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, 79 percent of single-parent households in Arizona headed by women live in poverty.
But women are not just victims of poverty. Women are an important part of the solution. Global and national research shows a clear correlation between the economic empowerment of women and increased economic and social benefits to children, families and the wider community. In other words, when women earn income that gives them real spending power, they invest it in ways that have a multiplier effect.
According to the International Monetary Fund, women reinvest a higher percentage of their income on average into the family compared with men, by as much as 60 percent. Those dollars go primarily to education, health care and food. That’s good for business today, and it helps build a better tomorrow.
It is because of this multiplier effect that, across the nation and around the world, private, public and non-governmental organizations have formed partnerships to invest in women. Microfinance organizations primarily lend to women.
Goldman Sachs is leading the “10,000 women project” in partnership with major universities around the world, including Stanford and Columbia. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation & Development (OECD), the World Bank, the United Nations and the White House all have major initiatives designed to increase education and employment for women because they know an investment in women pays dividends for the whole community.
Just imagine the savings to state and local government if all those single-parent households no longer required social services to survive. Even more, imagine the impact on this town — or on your own business — if all those single moms now living in poverty had jobs or owned businesses that earned enough money to buy fresh food, back-to-school clothes, braces, books and minivans.
That is the vision that keeps most of those moms going.
They have had difficult journeys, but the women we know who are struggling to get out of poverty could not be more motivated to succeed. They are determined to learn the language, acquire the skills, gain the credentials and do whatever is necessary to become economically self-sufficient.
It is in our best interest as a community to make sure they have the tools they need to succeed.
We realize there is no magic formula; solving poverty is hard. So let’s start with what we know is working in other places around the nation and around the world.
Let’s form cross-sector partnerships to put some serious money into small-business investment, work-force readiness, job training and post-high school education designed specifically to help women succeed.
Let’s make sure women in Arizona have the legal right to manage their own family planning and access to affordable child care.
Let’s figure out how to help the growing number of immigrant women master a new language and participate in this economy. These investments will pay dividends both in the short run and for generations to come.
Making Tucson a better place for women will make Tucson a better place for all.