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New report paints dire picture of the status of women in Alaska

Posted: March 27, 2013 - 12:08am
  Spray, Randi
Spray, Randi

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.

“Some of the numbers are shocking and disturbing,” 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.

“That’s why it is important for us to figure out what’s behind these numbers and come up with solutions which make Alaska better for our daughters and granddaughters,” she said in a statement.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

McGuire said these numbers are at the core of Alaska’s high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. State leaders need to examine them to figure out a way to improve the lives of women in Alaska, she said.

“If we figure out solutions to these problems, we’ll finally be able to stop those horrible epidemics and rebuild Alaska’s families,” she said.

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