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White House marks Women's History Month with 50-year progress report

Women's History Month began Tuesday, and the White House released the 'first comprehensive federal report on the status of women' since 1963.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 1, 2011

Women seen at commencement at Fairfield University, in Fairfield, Conn. A long-term progress report on the status of women was released by the White House, Tuesday, to start off Women's History Month. The report states that while women are more likely to hold a degree than men, pay is still unequal.

John Galayda/The Connecticut Post/AP/File

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Young women in America are more likely than men to have a college degree, and women’s earnings constitute a growing share of household income, but their wages still lag significantly behind those of men with comparable education, according to a report on the status of women released Tuesday by the White House.

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The White House released the report, which it called the “first comprehensive federal report on the status of women in almost 50 years,” on the first day of Women’s History Month.

It was 1963 when the Commission on Women, formed by President John F. Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, issued the first such report. That was the same year that “Dr. No,” the first James Bond film, was shown in US theaters, Iranian women got to vote for the first time, and Sheriff Eugene “Bull” Connor unleashed fire hoses and police dogs on African-American demonstrators in Birmingham, Ala.

“The Obama administration has been focused on addressing the challenges faced by women and girls from Day 1 because we know that the success of women and girls is vital to winning the future,” said Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. “Today’s report not only serves as a look back on American women’s lives, but serves as a guidepost to help us move forward.”

Monthlong focus

Many authors and academics agree with that assessment and say they are delighted the White House intends to cast a weekly spotlight on each of the report’s five main topics throughout the month: (1) people, families, and income; (2) education; (3) employment; (4) health; and (5) crime and violence. But some wish the report would have gone further in laying out more completely what challenges women face in 2011.

“This is a very important study, and the field of women’s studies should be delighted that it has come out,” says Susan Shapiro Barash, professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College and author of “You're Grounded Forever. But First Let's Go Shopping: The Challenges Mothers Face with their Daughters and Ten Timely Solutions.”

In spite of the giant gains women have made in education and the labor force, there are still huge inequities in pay for equal work, she says. “There is still sexism and tokenism in corporate America and this report shows both the progress that has been made and the hurdles that are still ahead.”

Some of the report’s key findings include:

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