The Wage Gap

The debate continues …

By Valerie Kirn-Duensing

REGION – Arguments, like coins, have two sides. The gender-based wage gap dispute is no different. On the one side there is the "Yes, there is a pay gap!" group backed by the American Association of University Women and their years of studies and surveys, the most recent showing American women earn just 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Sporting similar claims are other organizations like the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and even the office of the President of the United States.

On the other side of the coin is the "There is no real pay gap" group, supported by author Warren Farrell ("Why Men Earn More"), San Francisco radio talk show personality and blogger Marty Nemko, FrontPage Magazine publisher David Horowitz and Republican party strategist Alex Castellanos who all similarly state there really is no wage gap once you factor in the number of hours women work compared to men and the type of work women choose.

Readers of the Traverse City Business News and The Ticker were asked to weigh in on the gender wage gap issue and other workplace issues. Approximately 294 readers responded – 74 percent women and 26 percent men. When asked if they believed that men are generally paid more than women for equal work here, 73 percent of women and 27 percent of men said "yes."

"On paper, a male colleague and I were identical as far as accomplishing goals," one female survey respondent wrote. "But he was paid more."

Labor market – then and now

Historically, women have come long way in the last 100 years within the U.S. labor force. In the 1900s, women made up just 18 percent of the work force outside the home. Their professions, by and large, were limited to the textile industry and domestic work. By the 1970s this percentage grew to 38 percent. Today, women make up almost half of the U.S. labor force. According to the U.S. Department of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual growth rate for women in the labor force is expected to be 0.9 percent between 2008 and 2018. Even though this is slower than previously projected, it is still faster than the projected annual growth rate of 0.7 percent for men. This, coupled with the fact that since 1982 women have been earning more bachelor's and master's degrees than men and that 59 percent of all post-secondary degrees conferred in 2008 were earned by women, means the labor market will inevitably tip in favor of women.

Apples to oranges?

When looking at general overall median income, men do earn more than women. The National Partnership for Women and Families recently released a report on wage gaps, breaking it down into state-by-state comparisons. According to the report, U.S. women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. In Michigan, the number drops to 74 cents, meaning Michigan women earn about $12,540 less per year than Michigan men. In overall ranking, the pay gap in Michigan is large enough to place the state 41st among all 50 states.

Critics of this type of generalized reporting claim it compares apples to oranges without considering critical differences between what these men and women do for work, how much they work and how they like to work. In Farrell's "Why Men Earn More," he lists 25 differences in the way men and women make work choices. He contends these choices result in pay disparity. According to Farrell, women value having a more balanced life that prioritizes time with children and, therefore, they tend to choose jobs that offer more flexible hours or don't require putting in more than 40 hours per week. Men, on the other hand, tend to value earning more money and take the jobs that require longer hours for longer periods of time. Women also seem to value non-wage benefits more than men do and, as a result, prefer to take a greater portion of their compensation in the form of health insurance and other fringe benefits.

To counteract the "apples to oranges" argument, the IWPR conducted an analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that they claim is "apples to apples." The results show that of men and women who work full-time across 40 common occupations, men nearly always earn more than women. In 2011, the median weekly wage for full-time female workers was $684, compared with $832 for men. In the 20 most common occupations for women, in every job, except bookkeeping and auditing clerks, women earned less than men doing the exact same job. The same held true for traditional occupations for men, apart from stock clerks and orders fillers.

An aberration in the wage gap comes when studying the earning power of young women (under the age of 30) who are unmarried, childless and living in a metropolitan area. These women, on average, earn 13 percent more than their male counterparts.

One of the area's largest employers, the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) was one of few employers willing to weigh in on the subject.

"We have established base salaries for all affiliated and non-affiliated positions, and those salaries are identified for all employees in the classifications, regardless of whether the employees are male or female," said Chris Davis, executive director of Human Resources and Labor Relations at TCAPS. "In addition, employee salaries increase with experience and are not dependent upon whether they are male or female."

Janie McNabb, director of program development at Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, said no one wants to willingly talk about salary, be it women or men, employers or employees. During the past three years, however, she has observed that both men and women are more willing to take any job, regardless of salary.

"Our biggest challenge has been educating potential employees on how to secure employment and negotiate a salary that will meet their budget needs," said McNabb. "Whether you're a man or a woman, you should be realistic about what you need to support your family and pay your bills." BN