By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Money is at the heart of many of the problems and the successes that women often have. Recent studies have shown that, even now, women on average earn about $11,500 (about .77 on the dollar) less annually than men in comparable positions; they save less and spend fewer years in the workforce than men.
Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph initiated the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program two years ago, to address the disparities, promote financial education, self-sufficiency and economic mobility for women age 16 and older. On Jan. 14, The Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City presented Catholic Charities with a $25,000 grant to fund the program.
Jackie Loya-Torres, Director of Grants for the Women’s Foundation, said investing in women in Kansas City is a worthy investment; helping women learn to make good financial, employment and education decisions so that their children will also learn to make good decisions as they grow up.
Through classes focusing on money management, credit building, financial goal setting, finding and keeping employment, the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program, created by women for women, helps women move from crisis to financial confidence and competence.
Becky Gripp, Catholic Charities Economic Security Coordinator, who developed and spearheads the program, described a fictitious client, Cassie, who represents any or all of the agency’s real-life women clients. “Cassie is our model client. She has multiple barriers to moving out of poverty into the mainstream. She is homeless, meaning she has no place of her own. She may be 16 or 28 or 50,” she said, “most likely single, with 2 or 3 children. She may or may not have a high school education. More than likely she has legal issues — traffic tickets, an ex-husband, children in foster care that she wants back, the IRS. She probably has no transportation, and she very likely has an addiction issue, whether its alcohol, drugs, prescription meds. She’s probably unemployed, and in a crisis situation financially. There are so many Cassies. But they are survivors.”
Some statistics about women and finances:
• Seventy-five percent of all poor Americans over age 65 are women.
• Women are more likely to live in poverty than are adult men.
• Although more adult women live in married-couple families than in any other living arrangement, an ever-growing number of women are raising children without a spouse.
• A college-educated woman earns an annual median income of $51,000 compared to $61,000 for a college-educated man.
• A girl who doesn’t graduate from high school has a 90 percent chance of being poor and of passing the “legacy” of poverty to her children.
Gripp said women use and handle finances differently from men. “Our relationship with money is different,” she said. “The Women’s Economic Empowerment program enables women to share information and learn from each other. That’s another difference between men and women. Men tend to be territorial about their problems and about what they are learning. Women tend to share. Sometimes women are paralyzed by earlier bad decisions and afraid to try again. We rely on best practices to help them move forward.”
Nicole McCrory, who oversees Catholic Charities programs for pregnant women, wrote the grant with Jarrod Sanderson, Director of Family Supportive Services. She said, “A lot of women who come to us are survivors. We want to give them the tools to empower them and help them go further. The grant money will be spent on classes, workbooks, employment services and things like bus passes to help women get to the classes or employment opportunities. Bus passes are like gold to many of our clients! We want to cater to their individual needs.”
The classes cover women and money and intergenerational empowerment. Gripp said the grant money will also enable her to provide lunch or a light dinner for the classes, which will help the women learn.
Gripp said the average age of widowhood is 55. “So 9 out of 10 women will be making major financial decisions on their own at a fairly young age. We work with them to set micro goals — get up in the morning, get dressed, make three phone calls before noon, that sort of thing — that they can build on. Accomplishing doable goals can help lead a woman out of crisis and into control then confidence then competency.”
Gripp added that when a woman shows up in her class, it is her “responsibility to hear the woman’s needs and where she’s coming from and to act on what else she might need. It’s a holistic approach.”
The Women’s Foundation was founded in 1991 to promote the long-term stability of agencies serving women and girls in the Kansas City community; to fund innovative programs that address key issues facing women and girls; to think strategically with other community leaders about the importance of women’s issues, and to increase support from other funders for those issues and encourage women to recognize “the power of their purses,” to put their dollars where their values are. Today The Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City is the only local organization that works to improve and enhance economic self-sufficiency relating to financial literacy, employment and support for working women. In the past 20 years, The Women’s Foundation has awarded more than $2.5 million to organizations like Catholic Charities to help improve the lives of Kansas City’s women and girls.
Gripp said right now, she has anywhere from 8 to 25 students in her classes, ranging in age from 16 to 80. “If I can help transform a life or many lives, it’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. “That’s my goal, transforming lives for the better.”
To learn more about Catholic Charities Women’s Economic Empowerment Program or any of their other services and programs, contact the Caritas Center (816) 221-4377 or visit www.catholiccharities-kcsj.org.