5 Reasons Why the Midterm Election Will Be Important for College Women
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- Women are important voters in midterm elections, voting in higher numbers than men.
- Political issues important to college women, including reproductive rights, will be centered in the midterm elections.
- Other issues — access to healthcare, the gender wage gap, and student loan debt — may also be impacted by the midterm elections.
The midterm elections are coming. That might be bad news for college women.
One of the almost unchallenged rules of American politics seems to be that the party of the President always experiences losses during the midterm elections. That rule will likely hold in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, with losses expected in the House of Representatives. The Senate is a toss-up.
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Women represent an important voting block in midterm elections. Even with all-around record turnout in 2018, women voted at higher rates than men.
Ariona Elkins, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina Asheville, asserts, "These elections are important to women in college because we are impacted by the decisions that [Congress] makes, and it is so important to use our voices to advocate for issues that matter to us. One important thing to consider is that women are not a monolith. Obviously, there are common issues that affect many women but each woman has her own set of values and issues that she cares about and that impact her."
What impact might the 2022 midterm elections have on women college students?
"College-aged women are more liberal than the population as a whole. Midterms that result in losses for Democrats would be an aggregate loss for this group," suggests Heather James, assistant professor of social sciences, human services, and criminal justice at Borough of Manhattan Community College. "Since Democrats are expected to lose seats, college women will likely find the government is less responsive to their policy preferences after the midterm."
Below, we consider five political issues important to college women that may be impacted by the results of the midterm elections.
For college women, affordable healthcare can mean the difference between earning a degree or not.
Women are at risk of delaying their education without affordable, reliable healthcare. Once enrolled, lack of healthcare can result in poor academic performance or an inability to complete their degrees all together.
College students have significantly benefited from the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), narrowing the uninsured gap among this population. While 29% of 18-34 year olds were uninsured in 2010, that rate dropped to 14% by 2020.
Across the 19-44 age group, 5 million women gained health insurance coverage between 2010 and 2015 as a result of Obamacare.
Beyond just access, Obamacare has provided a series of provisions that make having health insurance for young adults more reliable for longer periods of time. Among them, the extension of coverage under parents' health insurance plan until the age of 26 regardless of college enrollment status.
Despite these positive impacts, Republicans still want to repeal Obamacare. Winning back the majority in the House, and possibly in the Senate, may be a first step towards doing so.
Recent cases brought before the U.S. Supreme Court are challenging Roe vs. Wade as law of the land. With rulings on some of the cases expected before the upcoming midterm elections, the possibility of the courts reversing access to abortions 50 years after it became enshrined in constitutional law is increasingly possible.
And while judges are not elected, a reversal on reproductive rights by the Supreme Court may signal more upcoming Congressional action on this issue, as well. Though the House of Representatives passed the Women's Health Protection Act protecting abortion rights in 2021, the vote was close.
The act, according to James, "would have been unlikely to pass in a Republican controlled House," making the possibility of a Democratic party loss in November precarious for women's reproductive rights.
For college women, this is undeniably worrisome.
Ensuring that college women have reproductive autonomy could directly impact whether they can complete a degree. Women in their 20's represent 60% of abortions each year in the United States. When choosing to have an abortion, one in five women from a 2008-2010 study noted educational or career goals as a deciding factor.
Changes to abortion laws would disproportionately impact women college students directly.
Gender Pay Gap
As the gender pay gap persists, women continue to trail behind men in earnings across all age groups and races.
According to 2020 data from the Department of Labor, women only earned 82.3 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Based on those earnings, attending college doesn't always pay off for women as much as for men. More women than men attend college, and more women complete four-year degrees. Yet, men continue to make more money out of college.
That becomes particularly problematic when a country faces the possibility of a recession. With inflation rates not seen since 1982, COVID-19 induced inflation will likely be on the minds of college women when they vote this midterm election season.
"A few important political issues for women today include abortion, as Roe v. Wade and access to abortion are being threatened across the country; access to health care, particularly for women of color and women living in poverty; access to childcare; financial stability during the pandemic; and the rights of LGBTQ+ women, as bills such as "Don't Say Gay" in Florida seem to be taking steps backward and marginalized groups such as transgender women — particularly transgender women of color — are continuing to experience higher rates of violence than any other demographic in the nation."
— Ona Elkins, sophomore at UNC Ashville
Student Loan Debt
Like their male peers, college women are also carefully considering the cost of education, both in the short and long term.
According to the Education Data Initiative, 40.5 million undergraduate students between the ages of 15 and 23 are paying for their college education with student loans.
In total, approximately 44 million Americans have used loans to pay for at least a portion of their
education. That amounts to an estimated $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Two-thirds
of that debt is held by women — almost $929 billion. Black women graduate with almost $38,000 of debt on average.
Women face unique barriers to paying back their student loans. In comparison to men, women take longer to repay their loans. This is at least in part due to gender pay gaps applicable across industries. And while women may experience career growth both in compensation and professional development, the gender pay gap widens with age.
The burden of carrying and paying for these loans impacts women graduates' financial security in the long run, limiting their chances of saving for retirement or purchasing a home.
The Economy and Finances
College women will also be paying attention to the economy come November. A recession may offer college women a harsher economy, one leaving them worse off financially than they were four years ago.
Unlike previous recessions, the COVID-19 recession hit women worse than men. Industries hit worst by the COVID pandemic were those more likely to hire women — hospitality, retail, restaurants, and healthcare — and jobs where telecommuting is not an option. Daycare and school shutdowns forced parents to keep their children at home, and forced many mothers out of the workforce altogether.
Those not yet graduating may be concerned about the possibility of increased tuition and fees. And other costs may be increasing, as well. According to studies, upwards of three-fourths of students are non-residential commuters. For commuting college women, the increased cost of gas thanks to the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine will no doubt strain their finances.
For those particularly close to completing their degrees, a looming recession may spell danger for job prospects. With inflation at an all time high, graduates will be looking to secure positions straight out of their degrees, with higher salaries to make up for the increased cost of living.
There is just so much intersectionality in our identities that is often overlooked when it comes to politics. For example, indigenous women, Black women, LGBTQ+ women, and many other groups of women experience oppression in many forms and cannot focus solely on their identity as a woman when they vote. When we vote, we vote holistically and in a way that most benefits us and those around us.
— Ariona Elkins, sophomore at UNC Asheville
The results of the upcoming midterm elections will be important for college women. Whether it is about reproductive autonomy, access to affordable health care, or the gender wage gap, gender equity is at stake in all of these issues.
Like in 2018 and 2020, women — including college women — will need to show up at the polls in strong numbers this November if they are to ensure these issues remain salient in the minds of the candidates on the ballot.
With Advice From:
Ariona “Ona” Elkins
Ona Elkins is a sophomore and political science major at The University of North Carolina-Asheville. Born and raised in Asheville, Ariona decided to continue her education at UNC Asheville to play Division 1 volleyball for the school. At UNC Asheville, Ariona is an inaugural McRae Scholar, the Political Science Club president, a representative for the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of a Hindi conversationalist group. In her free time, Ariona likes to hike, climb, and read.
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