Gender Wage Gap Wider in Washington Than Most States

Gender Wage Gap Wider in Washington Than Most States

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New study shows that women in Washington state earn less than 78 cents per dollar a man earns. At the current rate of progress, it would take until at least 2071 to reach pay parity.
Women in Washington State earn 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by a man, below the 79.2 cents women earn, on average, across the country.
Women in Washington State earn 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by a man, below the 79.2 cents women earn, on average, across the country.

New research by the Women’s Funding Alliance provides a seldom seen, in-depth look at how women in Washington state continue to fall short in several key areas. Washington now has a resource for those working to create public policies and programs that will level the playing field for women in Washington at a faster pace.

The report finds that the state’s gender wage gap remains larger than in the nation as a whole and is most pronounced among women of color. Too many families headed by women live in poverty, the study finds, and women here are under-represented in key elected offices. The result is lower pay, less family income, and more poverty in families with a working woman. This harms not only women and their families, but the state as a whole.

The Women’s Funding Alliance-sponsored study was done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank focused on issues that affect women. The report examines key markers of women’s status, including employment and earnings, economic security and poverty, the impact of racial and ethnic backgrounds, education, and political participation.

The report will serve as a resource for advocates, community leaders, policymakers, foundations, and others who are working to create public policies and programs that aim to level the playing field for women in Washington.

“This report provides a much more definitive picture of the status of women in Washington State,” said Liz Vivian, executive director of the Women’s Funding Alliance. “The findings go beyond looking at difference in pay to give a much broader picture of the issues that affect women.”

The issue of the pay gap is, of course, a big part of the report. One key finding is that women in Washington earn less than 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. At the current rate of progress, it would take until at least 2071 to reach pay parity in Washington State.

“This issue of equal pay is vital to Washington State and especially to the Seattle area,” Vivian said. “Our economy is growing right now, and we need to ensure that women are part of that economic engine and benefit equally from that growth.”

Advocates have long pushed for better educational opportunities for women as a way on closing the gap. The report shows, however, that education alone won’t solve the problem.

“Women here are now more likely than men to graduate from college,” Vivian said, “but while more education does indeed raise women’s incomes substantially, the pay gap with men with comparable education persists.”

The report showed that women are more likely to register and vote in Washington than elsewhere in the country, yet hold just 32.7 percent of the number of seats in the legislature. In this important benchmark, women have slipped backwards in recent years. Women held 40.8 percent of the legislative seats 15 years ago.

This is an issue that resonates with Seattle Councilmember Jean Godden. Godden, one of four women on the nine-member City Council, has spearheaded efforts to end pay disparity.

“When women hold 50 percent of the seats in local councils and the legislature,” Godden said, “we will see more of our government bodies adopting policies that put women on equal footing with men.”

“If our state legislature reflected the population of the state when it comes to gender, you can bet that we’d find more support for girls to pursue STEM careers and that we’d put more emphasis on affordable child care.”

The research is the most thorough analysis done to date on the status of women in Washington. Now available online, the report uncovered the key challenges that women in Washington face. Among them:

Wage gap. The wage gap in Washington is wider than in most states. This is true even though women here earn more (on average $41,300 a year) than the national average ($38,000). Women in Washington State earn 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by a man, below the 79.2 cents women earn, on average, across the country. The shortfall spans racial and ethnic groups, but is highest among women of Hispanic origin. A Hispanic woman earns just 51 percent of the average income of men ($53,000).

Family needs. While nearly 6 in 10 women in Washington are in the workforce, child care and other obligations limit too many from being able to secure better paying jobs with better benefits. These issues also lead to women being forced to work part-time far more than men.

Education. There is a direct link between education and income. Women and men alike earn more with more education. But even with more education, women still earn less than men.  In fact, the research shows that at every education level, women earned less than men who were one educational level below them. Still, the more education a woman had the less likely she was to live in poverty.

Poverty. Among the largest racial and ethnic groups, Native American women have the highest poverty rate. In addition, a significant percentage of Native American, Hispanic and black women are “near poor,” or living with family incomes between 100 and 150 percent of the federal poverty line. Families headed by single women are also disproportionately likely to be poor: 39.4 percent of families headed by single mothers have incomes below the poverty line.

Gender-based jobs. Gender plays a huge role in job options. The higher-paying types tend to go to men, while women are most often found in the lower-paying careers. More than half the women at work in Washington are in two occupational groups: office and sales, or services, such as restaurant workers and health care support. Men, on the other hand, are three times more likely to work in high-paying fields, such as production and transportation, or engineering, sciences and applied technology. The ratio of men to women is even greater for jobs in natural resources, construction, and maintenance fields. Men are seven times more likely than women to work in those kinds of jobs.

Voting and politics. Women are more likely to register (69.9 percent) and vote (62.7 percent) in Washington than elsewhere in the country. Even so, women hold just 32.7 percent of the number of seats in the state legislature. In this important benchmark, women have slipped backwards. They held 40.8 percent of the legislative seats 15 years ago. At the current rate, women will achieve parity in their representation in the Washington State legislature in the year 2038.

“Women – especially moms and women of color – struggle with these issues every day,” said Luz A. Vega-Marquis, President and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. “This research provides focus on how to address the problems they face. Investing in things that can help thousands of women and their children out of poverty helps everyone succeed.”

Maud Daudon, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said she believes closing the wage gap is a priority for Washington businesses.

“Employers are motivated to attract and retain talented people,” said Daudon. “Right now, many employers are searching for talent and want to select from a pool as broad and diverse as possible. Attracting and retaining women in the workforce is hugely important to filling jobs at all levels and is particularly important in talent challenged areas such as computer science. Pay equity is a part of the answer, as is creating a family friendly environment for both men and women.”

Women’s Funding Alliance is teaming with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to highlight specific steps businesses have taken voluntarily to address the wage gap as well as to create the most hospitable environment for a diverse workforce. Daudon said she believes showcasing best practices, and allowing private companies to learn from one another will allow businesses to address the wage gap effectively.

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