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A proper state for women

Published July 16. 2014 4:00AM

It is not an assessment found in the various indexes that rate Connecticut so poorly when it comes to business climate, but it is a finding worth considering, particularly if you are a woman assessing job prospects or parents raising girls.

In the latest edition of the Connecticut Economy, a quarterly publication of the University of Connecticut, executive director Steven Lanza analyzed a variety of statistics to determine which states offer women the best economic opportunities.

(We note here our distress that the Connecticut Economy will soon cease publication for budgetary reasons. The state needs an objective voice to make economic assessments. Perhaps a policy research center supported with private funds can replace the publication.)

The resulting article - "The Best States to be Female" - concluded that Connecticut is the third-best state in the country for women to live and work in, ranking only behind top-rated Vermont and second place New York.

Reasons included Connecticut's strong educational ranking, with about 36 percent of women 25 and older holding a bachelor's degree or higher, the fifth highest ranking among the states.

Connecticut earned a perfect score in maternity leave protections. It has among the lowest teenage birth rates. Adolescent birth rates, Mr. Lanza notes, are shown to be inversely related to economic opportunities.

Women in Connecticut are less likely to be sexually assaulted than women in much of the rest of the country. While this may seem unrelated to economic opportunity, studies demonstrate that violence against women is associated with negative economic incomes.

Connecticut can do better, and should, with Mr. Lanza's research providing a guide. The state scores poorly when it comes to the cost of child care, but Mr. Lanza notes that this can be attributed in large measure to the relatively higher cost of living. Still, there are things the state can do, among them state tax breaks to offset child-care costs and help women (and men) balance careers with family obligations.

About one-third of the states have a smaller pay gap between female and male workers than Connecticut, though the article notes that the pay gap numbers are not adjusted for occupational choices, education level and hours worked. In and around Connecticut's cities, where women are more likely to work in the same professions as men, the gap is smaller.

Policies benefitting women could improve if Connecticut had more women making the laws. In another area that the state did not do as well as might have been expected, the state only finished around the middle when it came to the number of women holding seats in the state legislature.

"Better opportunities for women are associated with better economic outcomes generally, which provides a motivation - beyond simple fairness alone - for giving such opportunities the fullest possible flower," notes Mr. Lanza.

If you're a woman there are few places where you could do better and many where you could expect to do worse - Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi ranked at the bottom - a fact the state should promote and build upon.

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