According to a study recently released by the American Association of University Women, the gender pay gap in Idaho remains alive and well, with the average white woman making 74 percent of male earnings in comparable jobs.
The gap is wider for black women, paid 63 cents, and Hispanic women, paid 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in the same jobs.
Nationwide, women make 80 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
The data, collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, place Idaho firmly in eighth place for the widest wage gap in the U.S., after Wyoming, Louisiana, West Virginia, Utah, North Dakota, Montana and Oklahoma.
The gap, although wide, has been closing – slowly – since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 as part of his New Frontier Program. At that time, women in full-time positions made 59 cents on the dollar of their male counterparts.
“We haven’t really narrowed it that much in 55 years,” said Lysa Salsbury, director of the University of Idaho Women’s Center. “It’s taking a really long time to resolve. At this rate we’re not going to see parity until well into the next century.”
Salsbury said there are a number of factors that lead to the gender pay gap, such as potential employers asking how much an applicant made at a previous job.
If a woman was making less than her worth at a previous position and her new salary is based on her old, she is likely to receive a low-ball offer, Salsbury explained.
“Women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men and are often offered lower salaries,” she said.
Another issue is maternity leave. As paternity leave is not commonly provided as an option for men, women are typically those taking time from their careers to care for a new arrival, whether after childbirth or adoption.
“These practices do not produce an equitable environment for women to progress,” Salsbury said.
Kathy Scott, co-president of the Idaho AAUW, agreed the gap is not closing quickly enough for working women, who are often heads of their household and working two or three jobs to stay financially stable.
“It’s moving at a glacial pace,” she said. “I won’t live to see the wage gap close.”
Scott said the wage gap is not merely a women’s issue, but a family issue, as most women work to help support – or solely support – their families.
“If you’re trying to buy a house, put food on the table, how are you ever going to get out of the hole?” she said.
State Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, said he is concerned the statistics don’t tell the whole story, and he is concerned they compare “apples to oranges.”
“The statistics are very misleading,” he said. “I would doubt we have gender-based discrimination.”
Foreman said he believes there are instances of women receiving lower pay than their counterparts but he “cannot imagine there would be systemic discrimination.”
Foreman said women doing the same job and who have the same years of experience, education and job performance should earn the same wages as men, and wage gaps under those circumstances should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“Women have not been released to do the best they can in the workforce, not for as long as men,” he said. “It takes time to get up to speed.”
Foreman said women have made great strides since the Equal Pay Act, and he would argue against claims that women don’t have the same opportunities as men.
He advised those advocating for closure of the pay gap to come at the issue with a measured, rather than an emotional approach, as an emotional approach would do a disservice to working women.
“The best thing women can do is, one, get educated, and two, be aggressive” in discussions about salary, he said.
Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said the wage gap is not something she expects to see legislation on any time soon, although some people are seeking action on salary information requests on employment applications, as discussed by Salsbury.
Jordan said while the pay gap is an issue, the first priority on the pay front in Idaho is minimum wage.
“Wages in general are a significant issue for our caucus,” she said. “In addition to low wages, Idahoans are forced to accept the pay gap. It adds insult to injury to women.”
The wage gap is not an issue that’s easily repaired, she said, as it is, in some ways, the result of long standing mental impressions.
“This is rooted in outdated perceptions about women and why they work,” she said, noting most women are working to support themselves and their families, not to get some time away from the house.
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