Washington fail: College-educated women earn less than men with just a high school diploma

By Cambria Roth
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Credit: Will Folsom

By Cambria Roth

Last week, Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Jean Godden announced a new paid parental leave benefit for City of Seattle employees. It was another way Seattle showed its progressive mentality.

However, a new report out today shows that progress for women across Washington still lags behind the rest of the nation — the state's wage gap is larger than the national average — and change has been slow. At this rate, Washington state won't close the wage gap until 2071.

Though earners across the board in Washington make more than the national average (10th in the nation for women, 7th for men), women still earn less than men — 22.1 percent less.

On average, Washington women with a graduate or professional degree make $6,000 less than men with a bachelor’s degree. And women with a college education earn less than men with only high school diplomas.

The report, released by the Women’s Funding Alliance (WFA), analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey of 3.5 million women in Washington as well as other sources. The report is the first to connect the dots and highlight specific areas in need of improvement, providing the state with a broad spectrum of analysis across industries.

“Something unique about this report is how comprehensive it is,” said Liz Vivian, Executive Director of WFA. “Women in Washington have made so much progress, but the report shows that we still have so much more work to do.”

Women who work full-time and year-round in Washington state have median annual earnings of $41,300 compared with $53,000 for men. After crunching the numbers, the report’s authors found that women overall earn 77.9 percent of men’s earnings — compared to 79.2 in the United States. So the wage gap in the state is 22.1 percent and 20.8 percent in the nation.

Vivian points to another report coming out this week that puts Washington in the lower half of states with a wage gap. Oregon ranks higher while Idaho and Montana are closer to the bottom of the list.

“We aren’t where any of us in Washington state want us to be and where we need to be in terms of the economy and community,” Vivian said. “The number of women and mothers living in poverty is almost 4 out of 10 mothers. Think about how individual women, families and the economy would be changed just by closing the gap.”

The report found just that — if women in the state received equal pay, the increase would add up to $11.2 billion, representing 2.7 percent of Washington’s gross domestic product in 2013.

Vivian says there isn’t one cause for the gender wage gap — it’s a collective problem.

“We know 53 percent of the wage gap is attributable to the jobs women work in and their sector, and 41 percent is discrimination and whether or not they have children,” Vivian said.

A lot of Washington women choose jobs that pay less. Many prefer jobs in sales, offices, the service industry or education. Whereas men in this state are more than twice as likely to work in 'computer,' science and engineering occupations, which pay more. (Don't ask us what constitutes a computer job.) There are more women in Washington with jobs in the STEM sector than other states.

"We have a lot of industries that are dominated by men," councilmember Jean Godden said. "We have a lot of tech companies and companies that employ more men — our ports for one are male-dominated."

The report included a series of recommendations for employers, policymakers, program providers, philanthropic organizations and advocates.

Employers are encouraged to review their payrolls for any possible gender-related inequities, increase wage transparency, and establish policies to remedy gender wage inequalities among other suggestions.  Recommendations for policymakers include developing new statutes to address barriers to equality and ensure gender equity in publicly-funded education and workforce development. You can read the full list here.

The state is ahead of the game in some ways. Washington ranked 15th among the states for the number of women who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and fifth for the number of seats in the state Legislature occupied by women. And politicians have been making some moves to combat wage inequality.

At a national level, a Pay Equity bill, which aimed to narrow the pay gap between men and women, was blocked by Senate Republicans last September. A new bill in the Washington Legislature called the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (SB 1646), currently under review in the House, would strengthen existing equal pay laws and address pay secrecy.

Godden said the Seattle City Council is also working on policies for women. "We have about six to eight things we are working on," she said. "One is recruiting and encouraging more women to apply for city jobs because two-thirds of our employees are male."

The report raises a lot of systemic issues and recommendations, but will equal pay for women come about without women themselves standing up to negotiate their pay and ask for a raise?

“That is a piece of it, but I wouldn’t want it all to be put on individual women to feel like they need to take on this large problem by themselves,” Vivian said. “We need to work together to solve the problem."


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About the Authors & Contributors

Cambria Roth

Cambria Roth

Cambria Roth is formerly a digital editor at Crosscut, where she curated and wrote Crosscut’s daily, weekly and election newsletters.