AND URBAN POLICY
article was commissioned by Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in
Society pursuant to a grant received from the Department of Housing
and Urban Development's Office of Policy Development and Research for
a special volume on women and the city. It was initially published as
a Supplement to Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. S4-21. in the Spring of 1980. The entire
issued was reprinted as Women and the American City ed. by Catherine
R. Stimpson, Elsa Dixler, Martha J. Nelson and Kathryn B. Yatrakis, University
of Chicago Press in 1981.
Although students of urban problems acknowledge the importance of race
in the creation of "crisis conditions," it is rare for anyone
to look at the sex composition of cities or of depressed neighborhoods.
Perhaps after the next census when figures for metropolitan areas will
be available on a block-by-block basis, such an analysis can be undertaken.
Yet even on an aggregate basis, it is clear that central cities have a
disproportionate share of women, especially women who are elderly or solely
responsible for families.
Computed from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Social
and Economic Characteristics of the Metropolitan Population: 1977 and
1970, Current Population Reports, ser. P-23, no. 75 (Washington, D.C.:
Government Printing Office, November 1978), tables 1, 4.
SOURCE: Computed from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census,
Social and Economic Characteristics of the Metropolitan Population:
1977 and 1970, Current Population Reports, ser. P-23, no. 75 (Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, November 1978), table 7.
As one might predict from the above, city women are less likely to be
married and living with their husbands than their suburban or rural counterparts.
In 1977, one out of three central city households was maintained by a
person living alone or only with nonrelatives, compared with one in five
suburban households. Fifty-nine percent of such persons, urban and suburban,
were women (see table 3).8
Most new housing is built on vacant land around the edges of built-up areas and according to very high standards of quality legally required by local zoning and building codes. Therefore, it is too expensive for most households. This legal exclusion of the poor and near-poor from new growth areas results in spatial separation of most middle- and upper-income households from most poorer ones. The former are concentrated in newer neighborhoods in the periphery of the metropolitan area (and a few close-in neighborhoods). The poor are concentrated in neighborhoods with the oldest and most deteriorated housing, generally in the center of the metropolitan area.10
Women heading families, and single-woman households, are considerably
less likely than men to have a middle- or upper-middle -level income.
Consequently, an analysis by the Department of Housing and Urban Development
concluded that "nearly half of all female heads of household must
spend one-fourth or more of their cash incomes on [adequate housing].
Less than 20 percent of all households need do the same."11
The same analysis argued that "by spending up to one-fourth of their
income on housing, 80 percent of all American households should be able
to obtain unflawed, uncrowded housing, but only 53 percent of all female-headed
households can be expected to find adequate housing for the same proportion
The concentration of women and female-headed families in the city is both
cause and consequence of the city's fiscal woes. Women live in cities because
it is easier and cheaper for them to do so, but because fewer women are
employed, and those that are receive lower pay than men, they do not make
the same contribution to the tax base that an equivalent population of men
would. Concomitantly, they are more dependent on public resources, such
as transportation and housing. For these reasons alone urban finances would
be improved by increasing women's employment opportunities and pay. Yet
nothing in our current urban policy is specifically geared to improving
women's financial resources. There are some proposed incentives to business
to create more jobs, but not necessarily ones that would utilize the skills
women currently have. The most innovative proposal was a tax credit for
new hires from certain groups with particularly high unemployment rates.
None of the seven targeted groups were women.23
The Carter administration also proposed (but Congress did not pass) that $3 billion be authorized for labor-intensive public works. This is a standard ploy for quickly increasing employment in industries subject to cyclic unemployment. Because the unemployment rate dropped, the administration does not intend to reintroduce the proposal. However, since it is a standard countercyclical move, which will likely be used again, it is worth understanding its implications for women.24 Public works proposals quickly create a lot of jobs, but they primarily require muscle power or construction skills few women have gained. Without parallel programs to recruit and train women for public works jobs, they will principally employ men. The government has created extensive training programs to recruit and prepare blacks for the construction trades, and these programs have been quite successful. The equivalent programs for women are small, very new, and largely funded through local Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) grants.
The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act is the major source of training funds, though it is administrated primarily on a local level. The reauthorization in 1978 did contain some provisions directed at women -- for example, a displaced homemakers program -- but these are minuscule compared with the entire CETA budget authorization. Although many women have been trained by CETA programs, they are a lower percentage than the national unemployed population.25 While the wide variety of programs under CETA will not be analyzed here, it is worth noting that some are heavily female (e.g., the Work Incentive Program for welfare recipients) and some are heavily male (e.g., the job Corps for underprivileged youth). In all programs, but especially in the heavily female ones, women receive fewer jobs than men after training. The jobs are heavily concentrated in traditionally female areas and pay less.26 Unfortunately, beyond these aggregate statistics, we do not know what the impact of CETA on women has been: whether it reinforces traditional employment patterns or whether it helps women learn skills and find jobs they would otherwise not hold, even though they are in female-dominated occupations. The Employment and Training Administration has funded a large CETA evaluation project, but the consequences of CETA for women are not one of the principal concerns.
Unless the impact of CETA and other government programs on women is specifically examined, it is likely that in the future they will primarily help men, as they have in the past. The consequences can be seen in the poverty statistics. If one compares the percentage of families in poverty by race and sex of family head, poverty has been declining over time -- but not at the same rate for everyone. The decline for female-headed families has only been slight, but that for families with an adult man in them has been significant. Indeed, the absolute number of female- headed families in poverty has increased,27 despite the fact that women have been entering the labor force at a very rapid rate. As a result, poverty, which was once identified as a minority problem, is more and more becoming a female problem (see table 8). This is so because women can no longer depend on men as the major source of their continuing economic support. At the same time, women are more and more likely to be a -- often the -- major source of economic support for children. One-third of recent marriages end in divorce,28 and 18.6 percent of all children under eighteen live in one-parent households. An estimated 45 percent of the children born in 1977 will reside in a one parent family sometime before they reach the age of eighteen.29
As employed women struggle with family burdens that men are not yet willing
to share, they must also cope with a structure of time that assumes a
traditional role allocation. The forty-hour, five-day week requires that
one be ready and available to work at exactly the same hours that businesses
and agencies with which one conducts aspects of one's private life are
open. When women assume full-time jobs, they are often able to limit or
adjust the private side of family work to fit their employment responsibilities.
It is much more difficult to adjust the family work requiring public contact.
Women are more likely to be part-time workers than men because having
hours free during the work day is the only way they can deal with the
conflicts between their worker and family roles. The rigid and inflexible
hours of the standard work week, coupled with the long-standing employer
assumption that the serious (and promotable) employee is one whose first
obligation is to the job, is another way in which women experience discrimination.38
Measures for dealing with these conflicts have generally been proposed
under the rubric of "alternate work schedules." While these
arose out of a concern for the quality of work life and management's concern
for increasing worker satisfaction in order to increase productivity,
their benefits to women have not been overlooked.
These proposals for improving the employment opportunities of women are
most quickly and beneficially pursued in a city, where people, needs,
and resources are most concentrated. Public transportation systems, on
which women depend more than men, are already in place in the older cities,
the very ones that need to be revitalized. Housing is there, too, although
it also needs an infusion of funds and skilled labor to make much of it
livable. While 95 percent of that skilled labor is male, model programs
now exist to train women in construction and other crafts necessary to
rehabilitate the housing. A significant expansion of these could provide
many underemployed and poor women with high paying jobs that would not
require the years of professional education necessary for white-collar
jobs which pay equivalent salaries. It is also easiest in the city to
be employed in one of the better-paying professions, and, if one is married,
for both members of a professional couple to be adequately employed. If
enough such couples were attracted back into the city, it would provide
the tax base to support the social programs that eroded with the middle-
class flight to the suburbs. As Eli Ginzberg, chair of the National Commission
for Employment Policy, has argued, "The new trends to later marriages,
low births, and the increased career interests of educated women provide
the city with an opportunity to attract and retain professional couples,
both of whom hold good jobs and are career oriented."41
would like to thank Georgia Strasburg, David Baer, Ilana Bain, and many
anonymous federal bureaucrats for their invaluable assistance in preparing
Paul R. Dommel, James W. Fossett, and Richard P. Nathan, "Cities
in Crisis: The Impact of Federal Aid" (Washington, D.C.: League
of Women Voters Education Fund, December 1977), pp. 1-2.
Paul R. Dommel and Richard P. Nathan,"The Cities," in
Setting National Priorities: The 1978 Budget, ed. Joseph A. Pechman
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1977), p. 283.
Howard E. Shuman, "Congress, the President, and Urban Policy,"
paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science
Association, New York, 1978.
David A. Caputo, Urban America: The Policy Alternatives,
(San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1976), pp. 146-47.
Anthony Downs, "Urban Policy," in Setting National
Priorities: The 1979 Budget, ed. Joseph A. Pechman (Washington,
D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1979), p. 174.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Social and
Economic Characteristics of the Metropolitan Population: 1977 and 1970,
Current Population Reports, Ser. P-23, no. 75 (Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office, November 1978), tables 1 and 4. The Bureau of the Census
defines "central city" as the one to three largest incorporated
areas within a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA). "Suburban,"
used here instead of the census's term, "outside central city,"
refers to the remainder of the SMSA. Thus many central cities have major
"suburban-like" areas in them, and many suburbs or nonmetropolitan
areas may contain small but highly urbanized sections in them. "Nonmetropolitan"
means the rest of the country after the SMSAs are subtracted. Thus an
analysis by census tract, or by block, is really necessary to establish
the degree of concentration of women in specific locales.
Ibid., table 7.
Ibid., table 5.
For the 1950 census, see vol. 2, pt. 1, table 50; for 1940 see
vol. 2, pt. 1, table 17; for 1930 see vol. 3, pt. 1, table 30.
Downs, p. 165.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy
Development and Research, How Well Are We Housed? 2. Female Headed
Households (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, November
1978), p. 18.
Ibid., p. 15.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Women
and Housing: A Report on Sex Discrimination in Five American Cities,
prepared by the National Council of Negro Women (Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office, June 1975), p. 36.
Unpublished data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development,
Management Information System, Subsidized Housing Admissions and Continued
Henry Aaron, Shelter and Subsidies (Washington, D.C.: Brookings
Institution, 1972), chap. 4; Special Analyses: Budget of the United
States Government, Fiscal Year 1976 (Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office, 1975), pp. 108-9.
Unpublished data, Department of Housing and Urban Development,
Annual Housing Survey (1977), table A-1.
Equal Credit Opportunity Act, P.L. 93-495.
Section 808(b) of the Housing and Community Development Act
(amending Title VIII of the 1968 Civil Rights Act), P.L. 93-384.
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Home
Mortgage Disclosure and Equal Credit Opportunity (Washington, D.C.:
Government Printing Office, 1976).
Interview with Jo Ann McGeorge, project director for the Women
and Mortgage Credit Project of the Economic Affairs Department of the
Office of Policy Development and Research, Department of Housing and
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration,
National Personal Transportation Study: Mode of Transportation and
Personal Characteristics of Tripmakers, Report no. 9 (Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, November 1973), appendix C, tables
Lalita Sen, "Travel Patterns and Behavior of Women in Urban
Areas" (paper prepared for the Department of Transportation Conference
on Women's Travel Issues: Research Needs and Priorities, September 17-20,
1978), p. 9; see also Alice E. Kidder, "Transportation Problems
of Low Income Women as Members of the Transportation Disadvantaged,"
ibid.; Joyce Fanning Madden and Michelle J. White, "Women's Work
Trips: An Empirical and Theoretical Overview," ibid.; A. H. Studenmund,
Larry C. Kerpelman, and Marian T. Otts, "Women's Travel Behavior
and Attitudes: An Empirical Analysis," ibid.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Targeted
Jobs, Tax Credit and WIN Credit, Publication 906 (Washington, D.C.:
Internal Revenue Service, February 1979).
Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, "Urban
Policy: Status of the President's Proposals," by Keith H. Bea,
Issue brief no. IB77103 (May 21, 1979).
U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration,
Employment and Training Report of the President (Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1978), p. 42.
Ibid., chap. 2.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Characteristics
of the Population below the Poverty Level: 1977, Current Population
Reports, ser. P-60, no. 119 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office,
March 1979), p. 4.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Numbers,
Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces in the U.S.: June 1975,
Current Population Reports, ser. P-20, no. 297 (Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office, October 1976), p. 4.
Paul C. Glick, "Who Are the Children in One-Parent Households?"
(paper delivered at the Council on Early Childhood Conference on Children
of One-Parent Households, Detroit, Wayne State University, May 1979),
Janet L. Norwood, "New Approaches to Statistics on the Family,"
Monthly Labor Review (July 1977), p. 3 1. Some computations even assume
exactly two children, a boy age thirteen and a girl age eight.
Ibid., p. 33.
For documentation and analysis of this view, see Kay L. Schlozman,
"Women and Unemployment; Assessing the Biggest Myths," in
Women: A Feminist Perspective, ed. Jo Freeman (Palo Alto, Calif.:
Mayfield Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 290-312.
Nancy Gordon, "Women's Roles in Welfare Reform," discussion
with Arnold Parker and Jodie Allen, Challenge (January-February
1978), pp. 45-50.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Money Income
in 1977 of Families and Persons in the United States, Current Population
Reports, ser. P-60, no. 118 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office,
1979), table 49.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Characteristics
of the Population below the Poverty Level (n. 27 above), p. 7.
Juanita M. Kreps and R. J. Leaper, "Home Work, Market Work,
and the Allocation of Time," in Women and the American Economy,
ed. Juanita Kreps (Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976).
Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Special
Labor Force Report," 216, table A.
J. Walker, C. Fletcher, and D. Macleod, "Flexible Working
Hours in Two British Government Offices," Public Personnel Management,
vol. 4 (1975).
Eli Ginzberg, "the Corporate Headquarters Complex in New
York City" (New York: Conservation of Human Resources Project,
Columbia University, 1977), p. xxix.