IWPR has been exploring women and the political landscape by looking at the status of women in swing states. This series leading up to the election looks at policies that support working women and families, and the bold policy changes that are needed to support a holistic and equitable recovery from COVID and the recession.

Today, we’re looking at North Carolina.

Women will be among the most important voting demographics in North Carolina. Women in the United States make up the majority of registered voters and vote at higher rates than men. This holds true in North Carolina; in the 2018 election, 66.7 percent of North Carolina women were registered to vote 50 percent voted. This matters because women prioritize different issues than men, issues such as health and education. In the context of the upcoming election, the COVID-19 pandemic, struggling economy, and school and childcare center closures have negatively informed many women’s views of the Trump administration. Though 50 percent of voters in North Carolina chose Trump in 2016, according to a September poll by the Guardian, Biden holds a 1.4 percentage point lead over Trump.

While women represent a powerful force in the electorate, the continuous redrawing of state districts and the new wave of recently passed state voter identification laws have raised concerns that these laws will negatively impact the election process and prevent women and racial and ethnic minorities from participating. 

Political Participation: Between 2015  and 2020, North Carolina’s political participation grade fell from a C- to a D. While there has been an increase in the number of women serving as state representatives in North Carolina and the share of women who turned up at the polls to vote, women’s representation in statewide elected offices and the share of women in U.S. House of representation decreased. While North Carolina has been represented by two female Senators in the past, there are no women representing North Carolina in the U.S. Senate in 2020. While North Carolina women held more than half (55 percent) of the statewide elected offices in 2015, their representation fell to a third (33 percent) of statewide elected offices in 2020. Between 2008 and 2020, the share of women’s representation in North Carolina’s states legislature increased from 8.8 percent to 25.3 percent.  If the rate of progress in North Carolina State Legislature remains the same since 1975, women will reach parity in 2084.

Like most states, North Carolina should focus on ensuring safe voting conditions, recruit more women to run for office and higher office, and institute polities that will address the structural barriers women face when trying to run and serve in elected office. See the Status of Women in North Carolina: Political Participation for more information.

Employment and Earnings: North Carolina rakes middle in for women’s Employment & Earnings index (31 out of 51) and earns a C-. Women in Employment aged 16 and older who work full-time, year-round have median annual earnings of $36,000, which is significantly lower than the median annual earnings of $40,000 for women in the U.S. overall. Women in North Carolina earn 80.9 cents on the dollar compared with men who work full-time, year-round and a mere 57.3 percent of women in North Carolina aged 16 and older are in the labor force. Closing the gender wage gap would significantly improve women’s economic security. Read our report The Status of Women in North Carolina: Employment and Earnings for more information.

Poverty and Opportunity: North Carolina received a D+ grade for women’s poverty and opportunity in the 2018 Economic Status of Women in the States. More women are earning bachelor’s degrees and women’s entrepreneurship is growing rapidly, but improvements have not reached all women. An astounding 17.4 percent of North Carolina women aged 18 and older live in poverty, placing the state among the bottom third in the country. Expanding health care access through Medicaid, increasing opportunities for educational attainment for women of color, and increasing access to startup capital and government contracts for women business owners would all serve to promote women’s economic security. Read our report The Status of Women in the States for more information.

Work and Family: Pre-COVID women made up almost half of the workforce. Few families, however, have someone who can take time off work to take care of health emergencies, act as the primary caregiver for children, or take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. In our most recent report, North Carolina received a grade of D+ for the Work and Family indicator, ranking 35th of 51 states and DC. By promoting increased childcare, eldercare, and paid leave benefits, North Carolina could relieve some of the challenges associated with caregiving while simultaneously allowing more mothers into the workforce. 

Violence and Safety: In North Carolina, 35 percent of women have experienced at least one type of intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual violence in their lifetime. Additionally, 32.3 percent of women report experiencing physical violence, 18.9 percent of women have been raped, and 13 percent of women have experienced another form of sexual violence. More than 35 percent of women in North Carolina report having experienced some form of aggression or control by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Following the release of the Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed a “Safe Days” Executive Directive to support survivors of domestic violence.

Reproductive Rights: The ability to decide whether and when to have children is essential to the social and economic well-being and overall health of women. More than 43 percent of North Carolina women aged 15 to 44 live in a county without an abortion provider. Additionally, North Carolina requires women who seek an abortion to attend a mandated counseling session designed to discourage abortion and to wait 72 hours after the session before obtaining an abortion.

North Carolina has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, ranking 41st of 51 among all states and the District of Columbia. Women in North Carolina are also slightly more likely than women nationally to give birth to babies with a low birth weight (9.2 percent compared with 8.2 percent). HIV/AIDS diagnoses and reported gonorrhea cases also decreased, but chlamydia rates increased. Expanding access to full reproductive health services, including preventative and well-women visits, will help increase the economic security of North Carolina women. Please read the Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness for more information. 

Health and Well-being: Compared to the 2013 publication of the Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness report, in 2019, the health and wellness for women in North Carolina has improved in many areas. The mortality rate for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, and ovarian cancer all decreased among women in North Carolina. Among the 50 states and Districts of Colombia, North Carolina ranks in the middle or bottom on indicators of health and well-being. You find more information in our Statue of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellbeing