Study finds dire conditions for Alaskan women

ANCHORAGE — Alaska women earn less than men, were imprisoned at a higher rate during the last decade and are committing suicide at a rate twice the national average, according to a new study released Tuesday.


“There were some shocking results, some disappointing results,” said state Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who requested the study from the Legislative Research Services. The request was made after McGuire said she reviewed the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, for which 1,000 Alaska women were interviewed.

McGuire told The Associated Press she plans to introduce a bill yet this session to re-establish the Alaska Women’s Commission to delve into the report and find solutions. The original commission disbanded in 1988.

The report looked at several areas, including the gender wage gap, homelessness, home ownership, crime, health care and mental illness.

McGuire said she would like the commission members to bring a range of backgrounds — proficient in finance, domestic violence issues, education, homelessness, even a homemaker — to offer diverse opinions and solutions. McGuire also would like the group to reach out to professionals in other states to see how similar problems were handled there.

The nonpolitical group would then report back its findings and recommendations to the Legislature.

Gov. Sean Parnell has made a point of ending domestic violence and sexual assault priorities of his administration, especially with the Choose Respect program. His spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said in an email that “the wellbeing of all Alaskans is his top priority.”

Among its findings, the review found Alaska women make 77 cents for each dollar a man earns in full-time, year-round work. That’s comparable to the national average, the study says.

However, the figure drops to 67 cents on the dollar for women when both full- and part-time are included.

McGuire said this was among the most shocking results in the report, especially more women than ever are working outside the home, and they are more educated than ever before. She also found this disturbing since she has always seen Alaska as a progressive state when it comes to offering women opportunities in the workplace.

Nearly 56 percent of unmarried men with children under the age of 18 own their own home in Alaska. For a single mother, that rate drops to 42 percent.

According to the review, Alaska has the sixth-highest concentration of homeless people in the nation. Of all single people in shelters in 2012, a quarter of them were women. But 62 percent of all adults with children in a shelter were women. Domestic violence is the leading cause for homelessness in women.

“That’s the important part I want to bring out, to show how domestic violence manifests itself in real consequences for women,” she said.

In 2011, 11 percent of those incarcerated in Alaska prisons were women, up from about 7 percent in 2002. Of those, 72 percent were in jail on felony convictions. The study says most women are in prison for crimes against property, crimes against persons and drugs. Within two years of their release, 30 percent of women will be remanded back to custody, compared to 38 percent of men.

About 21 percent of Alaska women between the ages of 19-64 don’t have health insurance. The national rate is 20 percent.

Nearly 24 percent of Alaska women say they have been diagnosed with some form of depression, slightly above the 22 percent of women nationwide. However, the study says many of the findings for the mental health category are from low-income people or prisoners who received treatment through the state, and doesn’t reflect the women who sought help through private doctors.

Alaska women committed suicide at a rate twice that of the national average. In 2011, an estimated 1,931 girls — or about 10 percent of all Alaska girls attending a traditional high school in that age range — made a suicide attempt. For those attending alternative high schools, the rate was 14 percent.

“This is devastating. These young women aren’t even getting an opportunity to go on to adulthood to live meaningful lives, so I think this is something that is very alarming.

“As public policy makers, we need to look into this immediately and find out why young women in Alaska feel a sense of hopelessness that’s leading them to take their own lives, even before they reach an age of majority,” she added.

Nearly 19 percent of female high school students reported using marijuana during the last 30 days for a 2011 study, comparable to the national rate. But that percentage jumped to 44 percent for girls attending alternative high schools in Alaska.

The full report can be viewed here:


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