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Women & the wage gap

womanFor all of the progress made to close the wage gap between men and women, there’s still a big gap when paychecks are compared.

Women who worked full time year-round earned 74 percent of what men earned in Mississippi in 2009. For black and Hispanic women in the state, the gap is even wider.

That’s just one bullet point in a report entitled “Mississippi Women, Work and The Wage Gap,” written by Dr. Marianne Hill, senior economist for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

“We had been making quite a bit of progress since the women’s movement in the ‘70s but there has been just a bit of backsliding since the recession,” she said.

Hill found that the earnings wage gap between men and women adds up to more than $400,000 over a 40-year period.

Hill said that half (58 percent) of single mothers who are the head of household live in poverty.

“If the wage gap between men and women were eliminated, the poverty rate would be cut in half,” Hill said.

Another report, done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, found that nationally “the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 80.9 percent in 2012, a decline of more than one percentage point since 2011 when the ratio was 82.2 percent.”

White women in Mississippi ranked 43rd in a state-by-state Census Bureau study that covered the years 2008 to 2012. It found that median annual fulltime year-round earnings for Mississippi women was $32,100. White men earned $43,335 for a ranking of 41st in the nation, although their earnings were above the overall national median for all workers.

Hill said there are several reasons contributing to the male-female wage gap but at bottom the most important one can be summed up in one word: discrimination.

Two pieces of legislation before Congress would help women earn equal pay for equal work, Hill wrote. “The Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act would close many of the loopholes and lax penalties that have lessened the effectiveness of the Equal Pay Act of 1963,” she wrote.

Another factor is access to different jobs. Her wage gap report found that women make up about 48 percent of the state’s workforce and they make up about 81 percent of the health care industry employment, 73 percent of education, 63 percent of finance/insurance or real estate, and 61 percent of the leisure and hospitality industries.

“Some of the pay gap between men and women is due to the fact that men and women tend to be in different occupations,” she wrote. Women are under-represented in male-dominated jobs such as those in construction which tend to pay higher salaries than traditional women’s jobs.

“Job growth in retail and hospitality, while welcome, often involves low paid jobs,” said Dr. Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR. “Women are more likely than men to work in minimum wage jobs and the stall in minimum wage increases disproportionately affects their earnings.”

The IWPR said that women’s earnings may have been hurt “by budget cutbacks and the loss of public sector jobs at the local and state level.” Those jobs often are medium and higher skilled jobs that have higher wage gaps than found in industries such as retail and hospitality, which showed strong job growth in 2012, according to the IWPR.

Hill’s report found that the pay gap between men and women is greater at the top. “Only 20 percent of those earning $100,000 and above are women, in both Mississippi and the U.S.,” she said.

Education is key to getting women and minorities into fields that are non traditional for them and lead to earning bigger paychecks. “Women should be aware of and encouraged to get degrees in the sciences and engineering,” Hill said. “We need to get more women in those areas.”

There is also the ‘glass ceiling,’ the transparent barrier that keeps women and minorities from rising up the corporate ladder. The number of Mississippi women who list managerial and professional as their occupation fall short. “We were lower than the national average,” Hill said.

But there is an encouraging trend, according to the Mississippi Economic Policy Center.

“While disparities between full-time earnings for men and women continue, women continue to make advances in educational attainment,” MEPC reported last year. It found that women over 25 years old in Mississippi are more likely than their male counterparts to have attained an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or more.

“This trend mirrors the nation where women are attaining post-secondary credentials at higher rates than men. Among Mississippi’s younger working-age population, the differences in educational attainment broaden. Thirty-seven percent of women between 25 and 34 years old have an associate’s degree or beyond compared to 26% of men in the same age range,” according to MEPC.

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