State’s wage gap wider than U.S. average

2015 earnings show women made 77.8% of what men earned

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Clark County

Median income for full-time workers in Clark County:

Male

$53,776

Female

$40,850

Percent: 76%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The wage gap between men and women in Washington appears to be wider than the national average.

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the state’s full-time workers who are women earn, on average, 77.8 percent of the earnings of men. Women reported earning $797 per week, while men earned $1,025.

The gap in Washington is the 36th-largest among the United States, according to the data, which is based on earnings in 2015.

Both sexes in Washington earn more than their national counterparts, the report said, but the gap is narrower nationally. Women working in the United States earned $726 per week, 81.1 percent of the $895 made by men.

The report qualifies full-time work as those who work at least 35 hours per week.

The demonstrated gap does not necessarily mean that men are paid more for the same work as women, bureau economist Matthew Insco said. Instead, it underscores the differences between where men and women choose to work.

For example, women in Clark County dominate industries such as health care and social work, making up 80 percent of their respective labor forces. Women are also the majority of workers in finance and insurance

Men, meanwhile, fill the ranks in construction, manufacturing, transportation and wholesale trade, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Erika Laws, founder of Impactful Women NW, an organization that promotes businesswomen in Clark County and Portland, said better education early would enable women to find higher paying jobs.

“There’s a huge level of scarcity of women competing for (higher wage) jobs,” she said.

Sometimes women have the skills, but they don’t want to “step outside their comfort zone,” she said.

“That’s what a lot of guys do. They follow the money. If they can align what they’re passionate about with where the money is, then they can earn more,” Laws said. “For example, there is huge income in manufacturing. Well, let’s get that in front of women.”

Kerrie Holmberg, whose company Holmberg Recruiting helps construction, manufacturing, engineering and architecture firms find workers, said a quarter of her female clients were placed in high-skilled jobs. The remainder found work in office support.

But none of that is a problem if it’s a woman’s choice, she emphasized; and as long as they make as much as their male peers.

“If women choose lower-paid jobs because it aligns with their lifestyle, that’s not a bad thing,” she said. “A wage gap is only an issue if people are being paid less for the same job, in my opinion.”

Nationwide, the wage gap has slowly inched toward equalizing. Women earned wages at 75 percent of men’s earnings in 1997, when the bureau started collecting data for states.

This latest report shows Washington’s gap grew by 3.2 percent since last year, but the gap has fluctuated over the last 20 years, rising some years by up to 5 percent before falling a year later. The Washington gap was at its widest point in 2000 at 71.9 percent.

Women in Mississippi reported the lowest weekly earnings at $591 per week, while women in Massachusetts were top earners with $907 per week.

Hawaii reported the closest wage gap with 87.9 percent.