Fewer women in Alexandria suffer from overt sexual discrimination, a special 10-year study reported last week, but more battle a rapidly growing condition among females: poverty.
Mirroring national trends, Alexandria women apparently have an easier time than they did a decade ago obtaining jobs, promotions and wages nearer to men's.
According to the report: 37 percent of the city's work force is now female, an increase of 11 percentage points over 1974; 76 percent of the city's promotions and reclassifications went to women employes in 1984, and women now earn 84 percent of men's wages, an 8-percentage-point increase over 1974.
But the extensive report by the Alexandria Commission on the Status of Women revealed devastating poverty-related statistics:
*The divorce rate in Alexandria jumped by 100 percent over the last two decades, creating more and poorer female-headed households.
*Births to single mothers increased by 20 percent in the city during the 1970s.
*While there were no exact statistics on the number of Alexandria women with income below the poverty level, the report said the numbers held to national figures showing 35 percent of female-headed households living at or below the poverty level. In 1979, the figure was 23 percent.
"The findings indicate that the city has made progress in some areas," City Manager Vola Lawson said in a Jan. 18 memo to the City Council, "but there remains substantial room for improvement." Lawson, 52, appointed city manager last year, is the city's first female top executive.
At the City Council meeting Saturday, the council requested a conference between the women's commission and the city staff to discuss implementing some of the report's recommendations.
To combat poverty, the study recommended an educational effort to reduce teen-age pregnancy, more equitable aid to dependent children, and increased child care facilities and job training for women.
To achieve more equitable employment opportunities, the report suggested revising the city's affirmative action plan to clarify its goals and study job classifications to identify gender-based discrimination.
"The poverty is basically associated with parenthood and pay equity," said City Council member Patricia S. Ticer. "We need to take a look at how we can improve this."
Nationally, the so-called "feminization of poverty" is causing alarm, particularly because female poverty often means child poverty.
While national health statistics show about 15 percent of the overall population falls below the poverty line, the rate more than doubles for single mothers with children under 18.
Numerous studies have shown poverty often translates into increased stress and physical illness and induces alcohol, drug and child abuse.
"Improvement in child care, some of which will cost someone some money, will be a major step toward reducing poverty for women," said Kate Brooks, vice chairwoman of the Alexandria Commission on Women and the report's editor.
"Nothing happens overnight," Brooks said, "but in a few months major changes could happen" if the city and community committed resources and funds for child care freeing women to work.
Noting that Alexandria, the first local Virginia government to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, has often been a leader in women's concerns, the report said there have been "tremendous" strides in certain areas, notably vastly reduced instances of sex-stereotyping in elementary textbooks and the virtual elimination of bias in athletics.
Still, "Equal opportunity is still an unattained goal," the study said. Women with more education than men are paid less, it said, and women pay thousands of dollars more than men for disability, life and health insurance over their lifetimes.