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Op-Ed: Equal Pay Day underscores economic inequality

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Equal Pay Day underscores economic inequality

June 10 is Wyoming’s Equal Pay Day.

Equal Pay Day marks the date symbolizing how far into the year women must work in order to earn what men earned in the previous year. The day is dedicated to raising awareness of the gender pay gap and the economic impact it has on women and communities. We want to raise awareness of Wyoming’s Equal Pay Day because closing the gender wage gap is a pressing economic security issue for women in Wyoming and offers economic development opportunities for our state.

The gender pay gap measures the inequality between the earnings of men and women. Whether you look at earnings hourly, weekly or annually, there is always a wage gap between men and women. At no point between the ages of 18 and 65 do women, on average, earn more than men. Though the disparity varies by county, overall Wyoming women earn 70.6 cents for every $1 earned by Wyoming men. Those calculations, completed by Cathy Connolly, Ph.D., of the University of Wyoming and confirmed by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, are drawn from 2018 Census data from the U.S. Department of Labor available in the American Community Survey five-year tables.

People often wonder: Exactly what is compared to determine the gender pay gap?

Though many people mistakenly believe that researchers are comparing higher-wage jobs, like engineering, to lower-wage jobs, like social work, this is incorrect. Gender wage gap research always compares apples to apples: Men and women in the same professions, with substantially similar jobs, who have comparable education, skills and experience — and work the same number of hours. Measurements are conducted within a field, like engineering — how much do men with five years of experience, a college degree and specific skills earn when compared to women with the exact same qualifications and experience — rather than across sectors.

At some ages, in some professions, in some areas of our state the gender wage gap is smaller, which is encouraging. But the research shows that over time the wage gap widens. This has all kinds of economic implications, both for individual women and the communities we live in.

Over a lifetime the wage gap costs most women hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is especially significant as we age: Women live longer than men and have earned less over time, which means most women are aging into poverty. As the average age of the state continues to increase, this has implications for our hospitals, nursing homes and tax base.

Rather than treating Wyoming’s gender wage gap as a myth or a phenomenon outside our control, state government and private industry can work with women to close the wage gap. Doing so will bring myriad benefits to Wyoming’s economy.

Based on conservative calculations, the Department of Workforce Services estimates that closing Wyoming’s gender wage gap would result in approximately $153 million in additional economic impact. And at a time when tax revenues are declining, closing the wage gap could generate $5 million in state and local taxes.

Small changes to state statute that were proposed during the legislative session — like eliminating the question of salary history during hiring — would require no change to the state budget and would go a long way toward closing the gender wage gap, which, in turn creates new economic opportunities and jobs statewide.

Further, private businesses that have directly addressed the gender wage gap — and businesses like those Wyoming is working to attract — have found themselves with a stronger, more engaged workforce. Look no further than tech giant SalesForce, which publicly undertook a gender wage audit, identified the problem, applied capital and is taking ongoing action to address it. It has seen lower staff turnover, greater employee productivity and higher share prices ever since.

Equal pay for equal work is the bedrock on which the Equality State was built. As Wyoming works to diversify its economy and attract new businesses, the state’s leadership — public and private — would be well served to foreground closing the gender wage gap as a way to accomplish both.

Jennifer M. Simon founded the Wyoming Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group to advance the economic well-being, health and representation of women and families. She is vice chair of the gubernatorial-appointed Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues.

Natalia D. Macker chairs the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Macker is Wyoming’s delegate to Vision2020, a nonpartisan convener of women and men committed to gender equality. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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