Poverty & Safety Net
Article

STEM education and training can help lift women out of poverty

Eboney Thornton
Assistant Director, Communications
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June 24, 2024
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This is my last $20; will it be enough to buy gas to get back and forth to work this week? Will I have enough to get a bus pass and pay the fee for my child’s school trip? I can’t get my blood pressure meds right now; we need to use that money to cover our child’s copay.

Families in Ohio face difficult choices every day as they struggle to make ends meet. Data, like those from our Status of Women and Status of Girls reports, can provide tangible touchpoints on how well a group of people or program is or isn’t doing, but it sparks questions and conversations on the ‘what ifs.’

  • What if we supported and bolstered programs that were proven to help families move out of poverty?
  • What if we listened to the feedback of those whose lives were affected the most by the programs and policies created to help them?
  • What if the nearly 14% of women in Ohio living below poverty were encouraged to explore untraditional opportunities that could help move the closer to self-sufficiency, like a career in STEM?

Making a dollar out of fifteen cents

In Ohio, for an adult without children to make a living wage they would need a job that paid $19.40 an hour, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator for Ohio. That is nearly $5.00 more than what home health and personal aides, childcare workers, and cashiers earned in 2022, professions predominantly staffed by women. And if that same adult has one child? They will need to make $35.13 an hour, nearly $20 more than the average wage earnings of a health aide, childcare worker, or cashier.

 In Ohio, for an adult without children to make a living wage they would need a job that paid $19.40 an hour.

In the same year, professions that fell under the umbrella of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), like dental and ophthalmic technicians, civil engineers, and construction laborers offered hourly wages near or more than the $19.40 living wage for one adult in Ohio. For those with one or more children, these same professions may not provide a full living wage needed for stability, but they could provide a boost to get there. This doesn’t consider the cost of supporting and nurturing a child—childcare, transportation, and out-of-school activities.

The case for women in STEM

To help bridge the gap between take-home pay and bills, many who live in poverty often seek help from public benefit programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or the Child Care Assistance. Many times, these programs come with specific requirements for participants to receive and maintain these benefits, like SNAP’s 20 hour per week work or volunteer requirement for able bodied adults. To help participants meet this criterion, local job and family services departments use worksite partner programs, a collaboration with local organizations and business to provide on-the-job training to those participating in benefit programs.

Traditionally, women who participate in these job support programs are many times guided into nurturing or customer facing jobs—childcare assistant, receptionist, administrative assistant. These roles can offer, for some, set work hours that may allow easier pickup or drop-off for their child(ren), easier communication access with their child’s school, or low physical labor requirements. For childcare workers, it might mean a deep discount on childcare costs, due to their child(ren) being able to attend the facility they are working or volunteering at.

Positions like maintenance or landscaping may also provide set work hours that allow flexibility for the needs of families—such as transportation—but they also demand higher physical labor, which can become a barrier for some women. However, the possibility of making almost $21.62 an hour as a maintenance worker, compared to the $13.71 as a childcare worker, could be an incentive for some women to move past that barrier.

Loss of benefits, or benefit cliff, occurs when an employee receives a nominal increase in pay that reduces or cancels their allotted public benefits, causing more financial hardship than the help it was intended to provide.

The potential growth in STEM related occupations—nearly 11 percent between 2022-2032 compared to the little over 2 percent growth in non-STEM occupations—is another reason to explore collaborations between STEM occupations and job readiness programs administered by local job and family services. These collaborations might be a welcoming bridge over the uncertain abyss many women face when confronted with making just enough to meet some needs, like being able to pay the copay of a child’s medication, but it can also cause them to lose benefits (SNAP, childcare voucher). This loss of benefits, or benefit cliff, occurs when an employee receives a nominal increase in pay that reduces or cancels their allotted public benefits, causing more financial hardship than the help it was intended to provide.

STEM education and jobs partnerships

The educational attainment and stability STEM occupations can offer women and their families is another reason to elevate potential STEM-related job training collaborations and programs to women living in, near, or below poverty. While some STEM occupations, like nuclear medicine technologists, require an associate’s degree or advance certification, these requirements can often be met with little out-of-pocket costs due to scholarships, grants, financial aid, and partnerships between local community colleges, department of job and family services and STEM related organizations, like clinics or manufacturing facilities.

With these partnerships, program participants also may receive hands-on training, connecting them with potential employment opportunities once they complete the program. Additionally, depending on the occupation, successful participants could earn as much as $41.00 per hour in hourly wages. A quick search on OhioMeansJobs.com using keywords construction, engineer, and architect yielded 5,800 construction, 3,175 architect, and 18,450 engineering open positions in Ohio.

While the possibility of better pay can be enticing, the educational requirements to get there—like required classes in chemistry, statistics, and physics—can be daunting and stop women who may want to enter the STEM field. For those determined to pursue STEM jobs, these concerns can be addressed through the usage of tutoring centers and programs offered by local colleges and libraries, educational videos (YouTube, Kahn Academy), including short clips from current and aspiring STEM professionals on social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok. Mentoring programs, like the 2023 Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award winner ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland, helps prepare high school students for careers in architecture, engineering, and construction. ACE has provided over $1.4 million in scholarships to over 180 students since 2008,could also help provide the necessary support and encouragement to overcome these challenges.

With advancements in education, comes a boost in confidence pertaining in their ability to navigate complex situations, improving soft skills, providing an added benefits for their child(ren) and family as these skills are applied to help them the family learn and grow in their own education and professional attainments.

While these extra supports are helpful, we should acknowledge that some people won’t be able to use them due to a lack of access to necessary infrastructure and supports.

While these extra supports are helpful, we should acknowledge that some people won’t be able to use them due to a lack of access to necessary infrastructure and supports, such as reliable internet access, adequate public and private transportation, and time availability, for some programs coincide with work schedules.

I am woman, see me STEM!

While STEM related occupations higher percentage of men than women in the field, there has been a noticeable growth of in the number of women making STEM their career. In 2021, 12.3 million women were in STEM related occupations, a 31% increase between 2011 and 2021.

In 2022, nearly 500,000 of the almost 3 million U.S. workers in architecture and engineering occupations were women.

In 2022, nearly 500,000 of the almost 3 million U.S. workers in architecture and engineering occupations were women, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data of median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by detailed occupation. That same data found that 211,000 of the about 6,400,000 workers in construction and extraction related jobs were also women.

Although there is growth in these fields, there’s also disparities, particularly when it comes to pay. In architecture and engineering occupations, in 2022, women earned an average of about $1,600 weekly (an estimated $6,400 per month), while men earned a near average of $1,800 weekly (an estimated $7,200 per month). For construction and extraction related jobs, women earned a near average of $800 per week (an estimated $3,200 per month)versus the almost $1,000 (an estimated $4,000 per month) that men earned.

The closer a family can get to self-sufficiency, the better their and their community will be.

STEMming the gap

Filling up the gas tank, not struggling to pay school fees, being able to afford medication co-pays without going broke or borrowing it from others—these are some of the situations that STEM-related occupations can assist women and their families with. While there are challenges to be met at every step to receive the necessary skills to enter the field, the closer a family can get to self-sufficiency, the better their and their community will be.

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