Closing the equality gap

LIHUE – Women fared well in a recent study about equality when it comes to living in Hawaii.

In fact, they couldn’t have fared better, ranking No.1 out of all 50 sates.

The study, released this week by the personal finance social network WalletHub, ranked several categories, such as the minimum-wage workers gap category, where Hawaii came in first in the country in that category, too.

Renaé Hamilton, executive director of the YWCA of Kauai, said she was happy to see progress in the income comparison.

“It must be related to the recent minimum wage increase passed by the Legislature,” Hamilton said in reaction to the study. “Since we know that women make up the largest percentage of the minimum wage workforce, it will hopefully improve the economic situation for women and their families.”

Others around Kauai agreed, and said they hope Hawaii can hold on to the top spot for a while.

Fifteen-year-old Kaori Kaya from Kauai High School said she hopes that the high ranking for women will continue in a positive direction.

“I study hard so I can get a good career like my aunty,” Kaya said.

She was referring to Jaselyn Ornellas, who is a certified dental assistant, working diligently for the past eight years.

When Ornellas heard Hawaii came in second-place in the national ranking of life expectancy for women age 65 and older, she thought it pointed to a definite trend.

“We’re going to live forever, so we gotta work hard,” Ornellas said.

Hamilton wasn’t surprised by the second-place national ranking for women’s longevity, beat out by the state of Mississippi.

“Hawaii has been one of the top states for many years for life expectancy,” Hamilton said. “While this is good news, the YWCA remains vigilant in reducing the number of women whose lives are needlessly cut short by domestic violence. The types of violence that are directed mostly toward women; domestic violence and sexual violence can have negative long lasting effects on a woman’s general health throughout the course of her life.”

Natalie Masaveg has seen living proof of longevity in her own family with her mother still alive and well at age 105.

“It’s in the genes,” Masaveg said.

She spent years in various industries on Kauai from hairstylist to working in a bank and a dental office. But, she added, it would be nice to have been compensated a little better still.

“I would have liked to have been paid more,” Masaveg said.

In the income earnings gap between women and men, Hawaii ranked 16th, according to the study.

Masaveg said her husband makes more than she did so she chooses to stay home to care for her grandson. But for both men and women, she believes quality of life is the best on Kauai — especially for rearing children.

“I was in the Air Force and traveled around the world,” Masaveg said. “There’s no place like home (Kauai) to raise kids.”

Phyllis Celebrado, owner of the Deli and Bread Connection, believes owning a business on Kauai is the way to go.

“You have to work hard,” Celebrado said. “You can do it. You have to because it is so expensive to live here.”

One puzzling point in the study’s findings for Hamilton was Hawaii ranked 21st for the unemployment rate gap, with a higher unemployment rate for women than for men, despite the fact that the number of women working has increased over the years.

“One possibility is that construction work seems to be one of the key leading areas for economic rebound and job growth as we continue to recover from the last recession,” Hamilton said. “Traditionally, construction is not an area where large numbers of women are employed, as compared to the travel industry or government jobs.”

Other metrics considered in the study were: executive positions gap where Hawaii came in 9th; workday hours gap, 3rd place; and educational attainment gap, where the state finished 17th.

The study also placed Hawaii second for the political representation gap, just behind the state of New Hampshire.

“We are very fortunate that Hawaii is so well represented by women in elected office,” Hamilton added.

But she believes there is room for improvement to see more women elected at local levels.

“When we look at Kauai County closely, there is still a large gap of women serving public office as compared to men,” Hamilton said. “Even as you look at the candidates during election years, women continue to be outnumbered by the number of men who run for elected office.”

For the full report, refer to www.wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women-equality/5835/

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Lisa Ann Capozzi, a features and education reporter can be reached at lcapozzi@thegardenisland.com

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