Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wyoming gender wage gap persists

By JOAN BARRON
Star-Tribune capital bureau
Saturday, February 14, 2009 2:06 AM MST

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming women continue to progress in getting higher education degrees.

Nevertheless, they still don't make as much money as men.

For example, women with bachelor's degrees can expect to earn less than men who have only high school diplomas.

This information comes from a report on the pay status of Wyoming women by the Wyoming Council for Women's Issues.

Regardless of the persisting disparity, the report said higher education still pays off for women. The more education she has, the higher the salary she can command.

Wyoming's ratio of women's to men's earnings of 63 percent has been among the widest gaps in the nation for at least the past five years.

The national average is 77.5 percent, according to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report.

Women's median earnings were less than men's in all 50 states, the status report said.

It found that Wyoming women trail men in representation in government.

Women also are more affected by the shortage of child care facilities in the state.

"Women need to run for elected office," Teresa De Groh, women's council chair, said Friday during a news conference in the Capitol Building rotunda.

The number of women in the 30-member Wyoming Senate decreased from four to one for a 3 percent representation. The Wyoming House lost two women, resulting in a decrease from 17 to 15 for a 25 percent representation.

Women do better at the local level. The majority of counties have at least 30 percent women in county elected offices.

But they hold only 11 percent of the county commissioner seats in the state.

Sixteen counties will have no women on county commissions this year, and 22 percent of the municipalities will have no women on their town councils.

Training women to work in nontraditional, male-dominated fields, meanwhile, is one way for them to earn a living wage.

The report said nearly 39,000 women now work in nontraditional careers, up about 1,000 from last year.


"But we need only so many heavy-equipment operators," said Sarah Gorin, chairwoman of the Equality State Policy Center.

Gorin's group was instrumental in initiating the wage gap study in 2003.

Women, she said, need health insurance through the expanded child health insurance program for children and working families.

A lot of women work part time by necessity or choice.

"If you're a part-time employee like most women, there's almost no chance you have access to health insurance because only 11 percent of part-time employees do," Gorin said.

These women cannot afford private insurance, which costs on average $12,000 a year with a high deductible.

If the only way a single parent can get health insurance is to work full time, then she encounters the shortage of child care, Gorin said.

A total of 40,293 children from birth to 12 years of age are potential users of child care services, according to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

But current providers have only 17,565 spaces available, leaving 22,728 children with no child care services.

Another important issue, Gorin said, is the minimum wage.

The Legislature already killed a bill to increase the wage for tipped employees from $2.13 per hour to the federal minimum wage.

Most of these employees are women.

Opponents of the bill said employers are supposed to make up the difference if a server makes less from tips than the federal minimum wage but not all do so.

If they don't, the waitresses should file a complaint with the state, opponents of the bill said.

Gorin said the female employees believe they will lose their jobs if they complain.

"We're hoping we can initiate some personnel investigation action and enforcement actions to make some headway there," Gorin said.

Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or joan.barron@trib.com

Wyo gender wage gap persists

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