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The Future is Female


~by Michael Wilcox

Assistant Director and Program Leader for Community Development / Purdue Extension
Associate Director / North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD)


The Future is…

I was looking back at my blog post from August 2020 where I was reflecting on my first year as Assistant Director and Program Leader. In it, I shared four takeaways that remain as pertinent now, as they were then: inclusiveness, adoption of technology, dialogue, and decision-making. Common themes in the discipline of community development. What shocked me though, was this…

At the time, we were reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the twenty weeks between March 1st and August 1st, over 65,000 Indiana residents were known to have contracted the virus and nearly 3,000 had died. The seven-day moving average was 820 cases/ day and ten deaths/day. In so many ways, the (roughly) twenty-eight weeks that followed were a nightmare for many in Indiana and across the country. Today, in comparison, the seven-day moving average is 804 cases/day and eight death/day. Essentially where we were at in early August. However, the Indiana Department of Health is reporting a total caseload of over 663,000 people and 12,200 deaths, a ten-fold and four-fold increase from August 2020, respectively.

As shocking as these numbers are, we should bear in mind how the burden of keeping our communities afloat and our residents healthy has been shared. Based on an early analysis done by the Brookings Institute, our data shows that just over 35% of Indiana’s four million jobs met the definition of “Essential.” In March 2020, it was the Department of Homeland Security that defined “Essential” as those who “protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.” A deeper look into the demographics of these workers by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Center for Economic Policy and Research showed that “highly exposed” or “frontline” workers are disproportionately women and minorities facing income, education, family, and other workforce challenges.

A look at data from Indiana shows that, in terms of Essential workers in both Metropolitan (urban) and Non-Metropolitan (rural) counties, minorities are disproportionately represented (minorities represent 17.4% and 5% of the population, respectively but 22% of Metropolitan Essential workers and 13% of Non-Metropolitan). And, even more telling is the data associated with the Essential Healthcare Workers (deemed Phase 1a for vaccination purposes). These are the people that have been on the medical front lines since Day 1 of the pandemic. They represent nearly a third of all Essential workers, are disproportionately minorities (21% in Metropolitan and 10% in NonMetropolitan), and the vast majority are women (81% in Metropolitan and 83% in NonMetropolitan). Here, even the term “Essential” seems inadequate—and yet—they have often been overlooked and underpaid.

As many of you know, this is Women’s History Month. Over years there has been much to celebrate as barriers and glass ceilings continue to be broken in our communities, in the workplace, and even our governments. However, as discussed above, this past year has shed light on the systematic failings and challenges that women face, especially women of color.

Two-thirds of our Purdue Extension Community Development team are women. They are highly skilled and very successful. Collectively, their contributions to our Extension program have driven a significant amount of the impact our team has had across the state and beyond. Not because of their number, but because of their expertise, dedication, and the limitless amount of passion they have for their work and the communities that they serve. Many thanks to each of you.

So, I will end where I began – the future. Much will change this year. Vaccinations are being administered. Our Extension programming will start to shift from full virtual to hybrid and face-to-face as the pandemic subsides. Our new mission statement will serve as a guide, “Strengthen the capacity of local leaders, residents, businesses, and organizations to build resilient, inclusive and sustainable communities through research-based resources and processes.” And, our success – much like our survival over the last year – will rest in the heads, hands and hearts of the women (and men!) that contribute as team members, colleagues, partners, and collaborators.

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