Fifty-six percent of Texas women heading low-income households lack any college education, the third-highest percentage of any state, according to a report released Wednesday by the Working Poor Families Project.
The Washington, D.C.-based project, a national initiative focused on state workforce development policies, based the report on census data. That data also says that 61 percent of female-headed working families in Texas are low-income, an increase from 59 percent in 2007, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank that advocates for low-income Texans.
Don Baylor Jr., a senior policy analyst at the center, said Texas government should be working to help residents earn degrees.
“Texas only spends a drop in the bucket compared to other states on services that would enable folks to get a high school diploma or a GED,” Baylor said.
The report suggests that subsidizing education, giving tax credits to low-income families, increasing the minimum wage and granting low-income women paid sick and maternity leave could help get female-led households out of poverty.
Kathleen Hunker, a policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said that though women in low-wage jobs are struggling, the focus should be instead on what they do have: purchasing power.
Texas’ minimum wage gives women working low-income jobs more purchasing power than women in other states because Texas is a more affordable place to live, she said. Texas’ minimum wage of $7.25 buys more than California’s $8 minimum wage, she said.
Hunker also said that achieving an affordable bachelor's degree is possible through universities that offer degree plans for $10,000. Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 called on Texas universities to develop $10,000 bachelor's degrees, and more than a dozen have announced they've created such options, though most do not account for the cost of textbooks.
A low-cost degree wasn't an option when Amarillo librarian Cindi Wynia put herself through West Texas A&M University while raising her young daughter. It took her seven years to graduate.
“I could only afford one class a semester — that was all the money I could scrape up,” said Wynia, who is now studying for a master's in library science with the help of a grant.
While completing her degree required a significant investment of time and money, she knew it would provide opportunities for her and for her daughter, she said.
“It’s very frustrating going into debt to get a college degree, but it opens so many doors if you can get one,” Wynia said.