WASHINGTON – Decades after women entered the labor force en masse, pay disparity between genders has fallen but not disappeared, according to a report from the Labor Department.
For the first quarter of this year women had median usual weekly earnings of $665, or almost 79 percent of the $844 that men earned, according to the study released Tuesday, which was Equal Pay Day. In the first quarter of 2000, women earned about 76 percent of men’s income.
“Not only has the education gap between men and women narrowed, but labor market experience has narrowed because women have been working more and more, and more consistently,” said Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and the Urban Institute.
However, the remaining gap is still cause for concern, he said.
“Big progress has been made, but a 20 percent pay gap remains significant,” Holzer said.
Further, he added, part of the narrowing could be due to men taking a greater beating in the recession than women. During the recession men lost more jobs than women and as of March the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate among adult men 20 and over was 10 percent compared with 8 percent for adult women.
In a study of the federal work force published last year, congressional investigators found that the difference between men’s and women’s average annual salary declined from 28 cents to 11 cents on the dollar from 1988 to 2007. While the Government Accountability Office found that the pay gap declined primarily because men and women have become more similar when it comes to experience, educational attainment and other characteristics, an unaccounted-for gap remained.
Why does a gap among the broader work force remain? Some say women accumulate less experience due to family care giving, crimping lifetime earnings. Others, such as Kim Gandy, past president of the National Organization for Women, attribute the persistent pay gap to sexism.