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Report will be released Thursday

Forty percent of the people who recently passed the Montana Bar exam are women, and women make up 55 percent of Montana's accountants and auditors.

Yet seven of every 10 Montana working women earn less than $20,000 a year. And Montana women are paid 58 cents for every $1 a man earns, giving the state one of the nation's biggest wage gaps.

An accurate picture of Montana women's role in the economy is one of diverse successes and failures, Missoula policy researchers found during the past year. And it's not a picture that's easy to get at.

"There really is not much analysis of how women are doing in this economy," said Deb Halliday, chief policy analyst for the Missoula-based Center for Policy Analysis and Community Change.

On Thursday in Helena, the center will release its report, "Women and the Montana Economy," at the Women and the Montana Economy Summit being held there. The report grew from a meeting of organizations that work on issues that affect women, put together last year by the Montana Community Foundation. That foundation has a women's fund that wants to grant its money where it will help.

"They said, 'We need to understand the economy and how it affects women,' " Halliday said Monday. " 'We need to see how women thrive and don't thrive in the economy.' "

Halliday, joined by Terry Kendrick and Judy Smith of Women's Opportunity and Resource Development, the center's parent organization, found that state economic data are generally not organized by gender.

But, they found, views into various windows show telling economic pieces.

Women are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs in retail and sales. The poor economy and state budget cuts affect women disproportionately: Women are more often the direct recipients of government benefits, such as child care subsidies and cash benefits, thus more often the victims of cuts. Women make up the majority of nonprofit sector workers, and nonprofits are squeezed by the economy.

Montana is among the top 10 states for growth in women-owned businesses in sales figures and in employment. Women own 33 percent of Montana's firms, they employ more than 33,000 people and their sales exceed $3.6 billion. The state ranks third in the nation for growth in the number of businesses owned by American Indian women.

Montana's developing urban economies offer opportunities for women in higher-paying fields such as insurance, finance and legal services, the researchers found.

Following the release of the report Thursday at the summit, discussions will focus on building skills as advocates and policy makers and charting the future for women in the economy.

On Friday morning, summit organizers hope to develop from the group two or three initiatives to work on during the next couple of years to improve women's economic position in Montana.

"That's when people will really roll back their sleeves," Halliday said.

Reporter Ginny Merriam can be reached at 523-5251 or at gmerriam@missoulian.com

If you're interested

Women and the Montana Economy Summit will be held Thursday and Friday in Helena at the Holiday Inn Downtown. Registration is $50, which includes materials, lunch, reception and breakfast. Register online at www.wordinc.org/cpacc/registration.htm or at the summit Thursday morning. Questions? Call the conference sponsor, Center for Policy Analysis and Community Change, at 543-3550 in Missoula or visit www.wordinc.org/cpacc. The summit is funded by a grant from the Women's Foundation of Montana, an endowed fund of the Montana Community Foundation, with help from the Montana Small Business Administration, Career Training Institute-Business Resource Center and First Security Bank.

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