GARDINER — At 38, Jessica Barker is re-evaluating her financial situation.

For about a decade, she’s been a waitress at the A1 diner, a popular retro-style eatery on Bridge Street. It’s a job that she likes and she’s grateful for, but she’s wondering whether she can do better for herself.

One national evaluation suggests that Maine is a good place for Barker and women like her to live and work.

WalletHub, a source of personal finance tools and information for consumers and business people developed by Evolution Finance, issued its 2016 Best and Worst States for Women at the start of this month. The timing is no coincidence. Every March — Women’s History Month — ushers in a spate of lists, reports and studies that offer a look into the lives of women.

In WalletHub’s evaluation, Maine ranks fourth in the nation overall, thanks to the state’s results for Women’s Economic and Social Well-Being rank (6) and the Women’s Healthcare and Safety rank (10).

WalletHub applied different weights to 15 metrics, such as median earnings for female workers, women’s preventive health care and women living in poverty, to come up with Maine’s snapshot.

Somewhere in all that data is the experience of women such as Barker and Eryne Thibeau, a former co-worker of Barker’s who now runs her own business.

Barker grew up in Bangor and now commutes to Gardiner from Brunswick. She got started in food service by working at Wendy’s at 16. As she looked around the industry, she realized that waitressing is one of the better-paid gigs to have. When the weather is good and the tourists are stopping for meals, it’s very, very good.

“In the summer, you have to live it up and work hard and save your pennies for winter,” Barker said.

And when she takes home $20 at the end of a shift, it’s horrid.

The path that Thibeau, 34, has taken is not so different. She has delivered pizzas, waited on tables and worked in retail.

“I was working more than 50 hours a week and I was barely able to pay my rent,” Thibeau said.

Five years ago, she started her own business, Quality Green Cleaning, in Gardiner.

“Now I work 30 hours a week and I am just able to make my rent,” she said. But she said she has time to spend in the woods with her dog, and that’s something she said has great value for her, even as she recognizes she doesn’t make enough to save for retirement and she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to continue working as a cleaner.

Barker said she knows it’s time for a change, and she’s taking steps to make one.

“As I get older,” she said, “I want to do something that helps society.”

Barker is planning to take a class in radiology. Her hope is to go to school for two years and get a job where there is a retirement package, health care and paid days off.

“I’m grateful for my job, but it’s kind of a job for a younger lady,” she said.

It’s also the kind of job that requires her to do something else to augment her income. Barker also teaches yoga, and that’s subject to swings in interest. Some classes draw 10 students; others draw one.

“That’s the kind of life you have to have in Maine,” she said. “You have to have more than one occupation. I know people who have three or four.”

So does Thibeau.

“A lot of my friends teach yoga or are carpenters or waitresses or landscapers,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of friends who work for the state, or who have office jobs. They work in jobs that don’t offer benefits and a lot of them are seasonal.”

Thibeau herself doesn’t have health insurance. She was happy to sign up under the Affordable Care Act in 2014 and secured a policy for which she paid less than $20 a month with the federal subsidy. She had to drop it a year later because continuing her subsidized plan would have cost her $189 a month and she couldn’t afford that or the most basic of plans at $89 a month.

Eliza Townsend, executive director at the Maine Women’s Lobby — a membership organization that promotes the well-being of Maine women — takes a deeper dive into the data like that considered by WalletHub, and she sees areas where Maine needs work.

“Maine has traditionally been a leader in setting policies that benefit women and families. We had a family leave act five years before it was passed by Congress,” Townsend said. Maine has also adopted a number of policies that address domestic violence, among other things.

“Maine is one of the states that has not accepted federal funds that would allow us to insure 70,000 more people under the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “Women who lack health insurance are far less likely to get the preventive care they need,” she said.

In Maine, she said, women make up the majority of people over 65, and the poverty rate for people older than 65 is 40 percent.

“Certainly, people don’t live in poverty in their old age out of choice,” she said. “It’s an accumulation of policies, including education, earning capacity and whether women stepped out of the workplace to care for family members, either children or parents.”

These are things that both Barker and Thibeau think about.

“I’d like to see women be able to take time off when they have a baby,” Barker said. She’d also like to see paid sick leave; without it, workers like her have to stay home and forgo pay or go to work and risk spreading germs.

Thibeau hasn’t put anything away for her retirement, and she knows that to do that she might have to expand her business. If she does, that probably will mean changing the structure of her business to hire employees and meeting the obligations that entails, including paying workers’ compensation — another bill to pay.

“I don’t think I will have the ability to retire,” she said.

If Barker pursues radiology, it’s likely she will have paid time off and the ability to save for retirement.

“I don’t want to wait tables until I am 80,” Barker said. “There was a lady here working who was in her 80s.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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