Is Alaska the Worst State in the Nation for Women?

Women in Alaska—17 percent of whom are Alaska native or Native American—get a raw deal. Photo: Getty Images/Gilles …A newly issued Alaska State Legislature report held some grim findings about women living in the Last Frontier: They earn less than men, were imprisoned at a higher rate during the past 10 years, and have a suicide rate that’s twice the national average, among other problems, including homelessness and a lack of health care.

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“Some of the numbers are shocking and disturbing. Sadly, some of them are what I expected,” noted Senator Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) in a press release about the report, which was completed by Alaska Legislative Research Services in December but only made public Tuesday at the senator’s request. “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.”

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Senator McGuire requested the Status of Women Report after reviewing a 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, which interviewed nearly 1,000 women and found that 59 percent have experienced domestic abuse, sexual violence, or both.

“We were waiting until the timing was right to release the report,” McGuire’s legislative aide Amy Saltzman told Yahoo! Shine, explaining that the office had spent the start of 2013 mired in issues including the recently passed oil tax bill.

Among the state’s upsetting findings: In 2010, women working in Alaska only earned 67 cents for each dollar a man earned (the national average is a still-low 77 cents to the dollar). As for crime and imprisonment, the number of women going to prison in Alaska is growing: In 2007, women made up 6.5 percent of Alaska’s prison population, but that number had jumped to nearly 11 percent in 2011.

Alaskan women are slightly more likely to have health coverage than Alaskan men, but the coverage for Alaskan women is still below the national average, with 21 percent going without (compared to the national rate of 20).

In the mental-health realm, the suicide rate for women in Alaska is twice as high as the rate nationally—nearly 10 percent of girls in high school attempted suicide in 2011. In addition, nearly two-thirds of Alaskan women were found to be in treatment for alcohol related problems, compared to just one-third nationwide.

As far as homelessness is concerned, only 25 percent of single people in shelters were female in 2012—but, for adults in shelters considered part of a family, 62 percent were women with children. The report cited domestic violence—which has rates in Alaska among the country’s highest—as a major cause of homelessness for women and children. 

So why the raw deal for women in this state? It may have something to do with the ratio of men to women there, which was noted in the state report as being higher in Alaska than in any other state, with 108.5 males to every 100 females. Nationally, there are 96.7 men to every 100 women. (Among the women in Alaska, 70 percent are white, over 17 percent Alaska native or Native American, and just 4 percent African American.)

To begin tackling the mountain of issues facing Alaskan women, Saltzman told Shine, the senator’s office plans to host a women’s summit in the fall, which will hopefully lead to community action efforts and new pieces of legislation.

“We need to take a very serious look at these numbers and figure out what we need to do to improve the status of women in Alaska,” Senator McGuire said.  “These issues are at the core of Alaska’s high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. If we figure out solutions to these problems, we’ll finally be able to stop those horrible epidemics and rebuild Alaska’s families.”

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