TERRE HAUTE —
Attention, women: Do you think your effort, time and intelligence on the job have less value than the effort, time and intelligence of a man with equal ability?
Of course not. And yet, the average working American woman earns only 72 cents for every dollar that her male counterpart earns.
In Indiana, the inequality is greater — 64 cents.
In Vigo County, it’s 59 cents.
Why the difference? That’s a question that’s being asked around the country since the issue of pay inequality recently surfaced during the second presidential debate. The question has brought attention to an inequality that has long been documented. Among all full-time workers, women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar paid to men — a figure that has not changed for a decade.
The Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey five-year estimates show a wide variance between the median income of women and the median income of men employed in 2010.
Besides the disparity in Vigo County — a community with five institutions of higher learning — other Wabash Valley counties are also below the state average. In Clay, the average working woman makes 61 cents for every dollar the average working man draws. In Sullivan County, it’s 55 cents; Vermillion, 56 cents; Parke, 60 cents; and Greene, 63 cents.
But the gap doesn’t apply just to those who have been longtime members of the workforce.
Last week, the American Association of University Women released its own study showing a persistent pay gap affects women who are new to the workforce.
Just one year out of college, millennial women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers. Women are paid less than men, even when they do the same work and major in the same field, according to the AAUW reports.
“The problem with the pay gap is that it is not closing, despite the fact that women make up half of the workforce and half of college graduates,” said Barbara Eversole, director of the Human Resources Development and Performance Technologies at Indiana State University.
“It is also a substantial gap, and one that adds up over the working life of women,” Eversole continued. “These lost wages mean a lot to dual-income families, but it means even more to single mothers trying to support their families. Lower pay translates into lower Social Security down the road, or lower pensions.”
Eversole — along with economist Debra Israel, communication professor Darlene Hantzis and others in the ISU community and other institutions — participated in a discussion of work-life integration as part of a two-day conference at ISU last week.
Among panelists who spoke on workplace issues were Bryan Jackson of Applied Extrusion Technologies, and David Myers, senior vice president of Terre Haute Savings Bank.
Jackson said that while AET ranks in the 75th to 80th percentile for pay in the manufacturing industry, it is a mostly male-dominated operation. The reason for that is that entry-level hourly positions are very physical and not attractive to many females, he said. Employees are promoted from the lower-paying jobs to the mid-range supervisory positions, he noted, and that tends to continue the trend of more males in the manufacturing workplace.
Myers, a veteran of the banking industry, said that management in banks used to be male-dominated, as well. But because of the industry growth, THSB has promoted from within and brought several women through leadership training. Probably 50 percent of the bank’s leadership is women, he said.
So while opportunities exist where women can be leaders, or have equal pay for equal work, the fact that the disparity remains has brought a lot of study to the issue.
Changing family dynamic
Part of the problem, Eversole said, is that women’s pay is too often seen as additional to the main breadwinner of the family. But that outdated notion does not consider the changing dynamic of family structure in American society, as the number of female-led households increases.
“The problem for society is that the lowest-paid jobs are in fields that attract women because they enjoy the helping professions,” Eversole said. “Society doesn’t value caregiving, so caregiving jobs pay less. In fact, the lowest paid of all is the married working mother, while the highest paid is the married working father.”
Economists tend to look at things outside of discrimination to explain the gender-wage gap, Israel said. Occupational choice may explain some of it — an engineering job may pay higher than a nursing career, even if both careers require a four-year college degree.
“If we compare two people at the start of their careers when they have the same education and no difference in experience, you have much less of a wage gap,” Israel explained. “But when we compare with age, women have sometimes taken time off to raise children and start a family.”
“One of the reasons for this persistent gap is that women bear children,” she said. “Every woman is a potential caregiver. This means fewer opportunities, fewer promotions, and that leads to less pay. Young women know the sacrifices high-paying careers require, and self-select out of those jobs if they think that they want to have a family. Young men don’t need to make that choice.”
In the academic community, charting professional growth pathways is a way to look for disparities in work-life, Hantzis said. Taking ISU for instance, more than 100 men have reached full professor status, while just more than two dozen women have advanced beyond assistant and associate professor, she said.
Vigo at 59 cents
Vigo County’s wage gap harkens back to 1977, Hantzis said, recalling a green lapel button that she wore that said “59” because that was the national percentage gap between men and women’s pay at that time.
“Here I am back with the 59 button,” she said.
Gender wage is an area where Americans have proven to be willing to accept a glacial pace of progress, Hantzis said. This nation is 22nd on the international list of pay equity. And yet, there are some places in America where men and women receive equal pay.
In the Washington, D.C., area, the gap is 87 percent, but in nearby Prince George’s County, Md., it’s 99 percent. In some counties of Texas and New Mexico, the average wage for women exceeds the average man’s pay.
“We see places in the nation where it happens, so we know it’s possible,” Hantzis said.
Marsha Miller, a librarian at ISU’s Cuningham Memorial Library and a member of AAUW, has paid particular attention to the most recent study, and she said that higher education, while essential, does not guarantee more equitable pay for women.
“One clear message that this latest report shows is that a pay gap continues to exist regardless of educational level,” Miller said. “A college degree is vital and we need more Hoosiers to attain that degree. As children and young adults think about what sort of career they might be interested in, they and their parents need to consider so many factors, including personal interests and talents.”
As the information in the report was filtered, the researchers noted an “unexplained pay gap” of 7 percent — for instance, when a man and a woman work in the same field, full time, with the same number of hours per week and same occupation, the woman will still be found making 7 percent less.
One potential contributor is continued gender discrimination, she said.
AAUW has partnered with The Wage Project to promote workshops in salary negotiation. Researchers have found that women do not negotiate salaries, benefits and perks as often as men. The Wage Project has workshops designed to give people looking for their first professional position the skills to do just that. The main target is women, but all college graduates can participate.
Several such projects have occurred throughout the state of Indiana, but none locally, Miller said.
While more women than men are now in college, and more women than men between the ages of 25 and 64 are likely to have a college degree, the wage gap continues to pervade the workforce.
At Ivy Tech Community College, Chancellor Ann Valentine said students are encouraged to complete their associate’s degree because on average, a degree brings in $11,000 more in income than a high school diploma.
The fact that women often interrupt their career path with family choices adds a wage disadvantage, she said, because it can take them out of the seniority stream of their workplace.
The AAUW study shows that in every state, women make a fraction of what men make. In some counties, they make half as much or less.
Women in Utah have it the worst. There, the average working woman makes 55 cents for every dollar the average working man makes. Following are Wyoming, at 56 cents; Louisiana, 59 cents; North Dakota, 62 cents; and Michigan, 62 cents. The best states for income equality are Hawaii, Florida, Nevada, Maryland and North Carolina; in each, women earn about three-fourths of what men earn.
What can be done?
So what can society do about the equal pay for equal work issue?
Hantzis said that transparency by employers is key to healthy work environments.
“It’s about being open to pay-and-performance issues,” she said. “In too many work environments, there is no transparency between work productivity and pay.”
She also notes that it is important not to let people deny or discount studies that show the gap. The four responses that she sees to such data usually begin with denial, followed by discounting the information as not significant, followed by justifications claiming that women are not a stable workforce because of their caregiver status, and then the concession that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Unfortunately, the nation has been in concession mode for a long time — which has turned into tolerance of moving at a snail’s pace to provide equal pay.
“The pay gap matters for women and families they support,” Eversole said. “It matters because it is not fair that half of society’s work is devalued. What does it say about us as a society that caring for others has such a low status?”
And, equal pay is one of the best economic stimulus plans around, Hantzis said.
“How much more money would an employer have to invest, and what kind of stimulus would that be to the economy?” she asked. “The greatest impact would come in the lower-income families. There’s no question that much more money would be put back into our economy.”
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.