The Moore Community House serves low-income women and young children in the ethnically diverse, low-wealth neighborhoods of east Biloxi. MCH and its community were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As part of its recovery efforts, MCH launched the Women in Construction (WinC) program to help low-income women enter construction trade jobs. This was an effort to not only contribute to hurricane recovery, but to also offer individual women and their families improved earnings by opening new pathways to economic security. Since Katrina, Women in Construction has grown significantly to include general construction and welding trade skills.
WinC has graduated over 150 women and built partnerships with large employers across the Gulf Coast to support a successful job placement rate of 70%.
But the need for WinC preceded and continues beyond circumstances surfaced by Katrina.
Challenges for Women in Mississippi
- Mississippi ranks worst in the nation for women according to health and economic indicators measured by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research.
- 25% of women in Mississippi are living in poverty.
- 76% of poor children in Mississippi live in single mother headed families. In Mississippi - as in other states - the likelihood of poverty increases when only one parent is an earner and when that parent is the mother.
- Parental employment doesn’t necessarily lift a family out of poverty. Minimum wage ($15,080/yr) is below the federal poverty level for a family of two ($15,410) and is less than half Mississippi’s Self-Sufficiency wage ($37,080) - a wage calculated to support the basic needs of a family such as housing, child care, food, transportation and health care.
- In Mississippi women’s median wages are 18% less than that of men. Mississippi’s culture and economy steer women into gender-stratified, low-paying employment sectors.
While those statistics are staggering, WinC has changed the futures for women graduates. Recruiting from MCH’s Early Head Start program, local public housing programs, local public welfare offices, local battered women’s shelters and local employment offices, the program has graduated 164 women and has another 100 on the waiting list. WinC staff have wisely and carefully navigated the tricky combination of pressing large companies to employ graduates and to overcome gender bias. Their success is evident in the amazing job placement rate of 70%.
Unlocking A Bright Future for Mississippi Families
With help from Wider Opportunities for Women, WinC built on program models to incorporate supplementary support services and classes to prepare students to enter construction site environments. WinC provides stipends to help with transportation and child care. We link students with former graduates, legal services and resiliency resources to ensure success.
This positive change also benefits the children of WinC students, especially girls, who begin to see their mothers as economically capable parents and independent, successful adults in the larger world.
Many students come to WinC from physically or emotionally abusive relationships. WinC provides women with the economic independence and personal strength to break away from abusive relationships and build new and independent lives for themselves and their children.
WinC has also made significant improvements in construction workplace environments for women. As more women graduates are placed into jobs and perform well, the more women are not only tolerated and welcomed, but sought after as employees.
WinC has made significant impact on the lives of low-income women and their families while helping to rebuild Biloxi and strengthen workforce infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. Starting with the needs of individual women, we are continuing to build a brighter future for Mississippi.
Carol Burnett is the founder and Executive Director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child-Care Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to improve policies and increase funding in Mississippi’s child care programs for low-income working families. Carol is also Executive Director of Moore Community House (MCH), a non-profit community center serving low-income families in east Biloxi by providing Early Head Start programs and Women in Construction, a job training program. Carol is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, one of the first women to become ordained in the Mississippi Conference, and the first to serve in a cross-racial pastoral appointment. Currently, Carol is a member of the Boards of Directors of the Hope Credit Union, and Common Cause of Mississippi; and she serves on the advisory board of Mississippi Building Blocks. Carol is the recipient of the Ms. Foundation for Women’s Woman of Vision Gloria Award, Lighthouse BPW Woman of Achievement, Women’s MS Gulf Coast Woman of Achievement, the MS Religious Leadership Conference Founder’s Award, the V-Day Leadership Award, and the MS State NAACP Vernon Dahmer Award.