50 Best to Worst States for Women: States 16-20

Rhode Island, Delaware, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin are states 16-20

Rhode Island

The Lowdown

Politics is an all-boys club in Rhode Island, and it’s been that way for a long, long time.

The Good News

With 81 percent of women over 40 getting mammograms, Rhode Island gives women the kind of squeeze they need! Pap smear numbers are also impressive: 78 percent. Only 14 percent of women lack health insurance, which is lower than the national average of 19 percent. Women here are also among the top 10 earners in the nation, pulling in just over $40,000 a year on average, and 30 percent have a college degree.

The Bad News

There’s little good to say about the state’s electoral record. Rhode Island has sent only one woman to Congress ever, and she left office in 1991. Do the math: That’s 21 years since Rhode Island had a female voice in Washington. Rhode Islanders have never elected a female governor and the state’s legislature is just 26 percent female.

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Anne Hutchinson, whose efforts to organize women in Colonial Massachusetts led to her banishment, was the first woman to establish a town in America: Portsmouth, R.I. in 1637.

= 6.3

Delaware

The Lowdown

Delaware proves a common, and not surprising, theme we’ve seen in our research: the higher the rate of health insurance coverage, the more likely women are to get screened for breast and cervical cancer.

The Good News

Ninety percent of Delaware women have health insurance and 89 percent live above the poverty line. Both numbers exceed the national average. As to mammograms, 81 percent of women over 40 have had one and 79 percent of women have had a Pap smear in the last three years. Delaware is also home to Dupont, a Fortune 500 company run by Wilmington native Ellen Kullman. She’s one of only 10 women at the helm of a Fortune 500 company.

The Bad News

Delaware is one of just four states that have never sent a woman to Congress and the state legislature is only 26 percent female. Only 26 percent of businesses are owned by women, slightly lower than the national average. On the health front, more than 60 percent of women here are overweight or obese and 29 percent of women don't exercise.

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Our “Second” Lady, Jill Biden, an outspoken education advocate, hails from Delaware. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the first African American woman to receive a law degree from Howard University. Her work as an abolitionist also included support for the woman’s suffrage movement.

= 6.2

Oregon

The Lowdown

Two words: Pap smear. Be alarmed. One in three Oregonian women hasn’t had one in the last three years, the nation’s worst rate.

The Good News

Oregon cares about caregivers. The federal Family Medical Leave Act lets Oregonians take up to 12 unpaid weeks off from work to care for a newborn baby, ill spouse or parent. But the Oregon Family Leave Act goes one step beyond the federal law. Those 12 weeks of leave can be used to care for grandchildren, parents-in-law or same-sex domestic partners (and their parents). And both new parents each qualify for 12 weeks leave after the birth of the baby or adoption. That means six months of at-home, job-protected (though unpaid) time with a family’s new addition. The FMLA allows both parents to take time off but caps that time at 12 weeks total for both parents.

The Bad News

Straddle up, girls. Oregon has the worst Pap smear rate in the country, with a third of women going more than three years since “feeling a little pressure.” Skipping this screening puts women at increased risk of cervical cancer. In Washington, D.C., Oregon has just one female representative: the newly elected Suzanne Bonamici. She’s only the fifth congresswoman from Oregon. The state’s only had one female U.S. Senator, Maurine Brown Neuberger, and her term ended in 1967.

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Emmy-award winning journalist Ann Curry, co-anchor of NBC’s Today Show, grew up in Ashland, Ore. And Ramona, Beezus and many other Beverly Cleary characters were inspired by the author’s childhood in Portland.

= 6.1

Virginia

The Lowdown

Mandatory, poonanny-probing ultrasounds? Really? We’re resisting the urge to put Virginia further down the list just for considering a law that would require women to get medically unnecessary vaginal probes before exercising their Constitutional right to have an abortion. And for passing a bill that requires ultrasounds, but allows them to be external. We have a theory as to why this legislation made it so far, and it all has to do with women in elected office.

The Good News

Virginia’s women do really well economically -- a third have four-year degrees (#7 nationwide) and their median salary is around $40,000 (the eighth highest). The poverty rate is 11.5 percent, among the lowest in the nation. Women also own 30 percent of businesses in Virginia.

The Bad News

When it comes to women in government, Virginia is sorely lacking. Neither of the state’s two U.S. Senators or 11 congressmembers is female. And just 27 of the 140 seats in the state legislature are held by women – a dismal 19.3 percent. The state has never had a female U.S. senator or a woman governor. Just three congresswomen have served a combined total of merely 12 years.

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Civil Rights icon Ella Baker, who helped found Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, was born in Virginia in 1903.

= 5.9

Wisconsin

The Lowdown

The state legislature slashed Planned Parenthood funding in June, 2011, which we worry could jeopardize Wisconsin’s excellent breast cancer screening rate.

The Good News

Nearly 80 percent of Wisconsin women over age 40 have had a mammogram and three of four exercise regularly (the ninth highest rate in the country). And just 11 percent of women have no health insurance, which is better than the national average of 19 percent. Two of the state’s eight congressional seats are held by women: Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). They are the first and only women Wisconsin has ever sent to Washington.

The Bad News

The 2011 state budget eliminated health screening funding for any clinic that offers abortion services, including Planned Parenthood. This left several counties without a health care provider to conduct mammograms as well as provide other care such as STD testing, annual exams and birth control. As the state legislature ended its session this month, lawmakers passed bills requiring women have face-to-face consults with physicians before personally being given the medication to induce abortion, a move that will make it harder for women in rural areas to end a pregnancy. More than 90 percent of Wisconsin counties do not have an abortion provider. On the legislative front, Wisconsin has never had a female U.S. Senator or governor.

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Golda Meir, the first female Israeli prime minister and only the third woman to ever lead a country, was raised in Milwaukee. Yes, Milwaukee!

= 5.6
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