New Report Highlights Barriers to Economic Security for Low-Income Women & Their Families

How much money do you spend every month? How little could you survive on? If you're a single woman with a family in the District of Columbia, the answer could be $300 or less each month after you've spent 52 percent of your income on child care and 30 percent or more on housing. Paying these major expenses would leave you with about $10 a day for food, clothing, transportation, utilities and everything else that it takes to raise a family.

For many single, female-headed households, this is a reality; and it's not something that's happening in a far-off, developing country. It's going on right here in our nation's capital, right in the backyard of some of the most powerful women and men in the world.

These alarming facts and more come from Washington Area Women's Foundation's upcoming report 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area. A collection of facts, data and anecdotes, Portrait Project 2010 takes a comprehensive look at the lives of women and girls in the Washington metro area. The report will reveal startling new information about income, education, housing, health and safety.

We hope that the information in this report will serve as a national model, illustrating both the challenges that women and girls in this country face and the amazing advancements we can generate if we all commit to doing a better, more comprehensive job of supporting and assisting them where they need it most.

The information in Portrait Project 2010 will guide The Women's Foundation toward funding innovative, effective programs that address some of the barriers to economic security for women in our region. After the last Portrait Project was released in 2003, The Women's Foundation started an initiative aimed at improving the economic security of low-income, women-headed families. That initiative led to grants to, among others, Hopkins House Preschool Academy in northern Virginia, where the Early Childhood Learning Institute (ECLI) was founded last year. ECLI trains and helps educators earn the certificates and degrees that make them better preschool teachers. Most of the students in ECLI are low-income, single women with children who want careers that they love with the opportunity for upward mobility. The program addresses several of the barriers outlined in Portrait Project 2010:

The Income Issue -- The average early childcare professional in the D.C. metro area earns between $19,000 and $25,000 a year -- that's below the poverty line for a family of four. So Hopkins House pays at least $30,000 a year, plus benefits. And the other child care centers that hire ECLI graduates are required to compensate their teachers just as well.

Barriers to Adult Education -- The program knocks down the barriers to success by holding classes on Saturdays, offering onsite childcare, meeting in a location that is accessible by public transportation, offering credits at Northern Virginia Community College at a discounted rate, and assisting students in finding scholarships to help offset costs.

The Education Gap -- Research has shown that young children need a strong social, emotional and cognitive foundation to succeed in school. Children who enter kindergarten without this are more likely to fall behind academically. Portrait Project 2010 finds that in D.C., just 17 percent of fourth-graders can read proficiently.

Adreanne Rivera is in ECLI studying to get her Child Development Associate credential -- the minimum needed to work in a child care program. When she's taking classes, Adreanne and her six-month-old daughter commute six days a week from Quantico, VA -- a two hour ride in traffic. She leaves her daughter with a friend because center-based child care is not in her budget right now. But, for a woman who loves children and hopes to have her own preschool someday, she says the sacrifices are worth gaining the training and confidence to fulfill a dream.

"I want to get my BA in early childhood and then my AA in business because I want to own something like Hopkins House one day," Adreanne said. "I want my daughter to look at me as a role model and... at least see that I'm doing something that I love. And maybe she can say, 'OK, my mom followed her dreams. I can follow mine.' "

"We're going to create a generation of success stories, and it begins today with this one child and this one mom making a heck of a difference," said Glenn Hopkins, president of Hopkins House. "And Washington Area Women's Foundation -- along with the other funders and donors who made ECLI possible -- is making that happen."

Hopkins House is one of 150 community organizations that Washington Area Women's Foundation has supported through grants since 1998. Reports like Portrait Project 2010 allow us to be strategic with our grantmaking, determining which organizations and programs will have the most impact on the greatest needs of our community, while providing critical gender-based data for policy makers, researchers, funders, and citizens. This strategic investment in women is a model that is being used with remarkable results overseas. And it's a model that is working wonders right here in our own backyards.

Portrait Project 2010 will have more statistics, stories and a look at the unique needs of women and girls in our communities. It will be released on October 14, 2010 at The Women's Foundation's annual Leadership Luncheon. For more information and to obtain a copy of the report, please visit us online at