When Hamilton's Gayle Zolaturiuk won $30 million on the lotto last week, her first thought was "I'm done with HSR," she told The Hamilton Spectator.
Zolaturiuk isn't the only woman who might be glad to be rid of riding the bus, according to one Hamilton social research planner.
"She is a single mother and her first thought [after winning] the lottery is 'Goodbye, HSR!' I think that's a comment a lot of women would make," says Sara Mayo, social research planner for the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton.
"Let's make HSR a convenient service … make it something people would take even if they have lots of money," said Mayo, the author of a recent report compiled by the SPRC that sheds a light on some of the economic struggles faced by women in Hamilton and offers suggestions on how to improve the situation.
The SPRC report found that more women are working full-time in Hamilton than ever before, but they are being paid significantly less than their male counterparts. To offset that inequality, they need better transit and increased access to more affordable childcare, concludes the SPRC.
'Women in Hamilton paid less than men'
The SPRC's Recession Impacts: Gender, Income & Employment report was released in early March and is the second bulletin the organization has produced on Hamilton's socio-economic landscape since January.
One of the report's key findings is that while women are joining the workforce in greater numbers on a full-time basis — making up 47 per cent of the workforce in Hamilton — they are dramatically underpaid in comparison with their male counterparts, who, while still representing the majority of the workforce at 53 per cent, have seen their participation decline by four per cent since 1993.
According to the report, the income gap between women and men who are working full-time hours can reach as high as $24,400.
Mayo believes the inequality is the result of two factors: continuing gender segregation in the labour market and a negative valuation of jobs traditionally held by women.
"Skills that are typically associated with women are not as visible [or] as valued," Mayo said.
'Need for better transit, cheap childcare'
Mayo concedes that broader policy changes are needed to bridge the income gap between the sexes — more than the report suggests, but she argues that providing women with better transit and more affordable childcare would go a long way toward lightening the economic burden borne by many women.
The changes would improve women's lives while they're dealing with the effects of income discrepancy, she said.
One of the reasons why better transit would help is because women make up the majority of transit users at 59 per cent, says Mayo.
"Women are more likely [than men] to use transit to get to work," she said.
The city of Hamilton offers an Affordable Transit Pass to low-income earners, and 70 per cent of those who use the discounted pass are women, said Mayo, who added that the future of that program could be in jeopardy after the province made cuts to the discretionary budget.
'More than 1,700 kids on childcare waiting list in Hamilton'
In addition to offering better transit, the SPRC report also suggests that greater access to affordable childcare would not only help those women who are working full-time but also allow more women to participate in the labour market.
Currently, Hamilton's childcare subsidy program — which operates on a tiered system that determines need by income and special needs — serves more than 3,600 children. There are over 1,781 children (1,623 as of September 2012) currently on the waitlist for the subsidy, however.
But serving low income earners doesn't address the full scope of the problem. Mayo says access to affordable childcare should operate more broadly and go beyond just [serving] children living in poverty to aid those who families are struggling at other income levels.
"There are so many great reasons to have a universal childcare subsidy program," says Mayo, who says the program pays for itself by increasing female participation in the workforce.