Ohio women lag: Gender gap in wages is bigger than in all but 5 other states

Akron Beacon Journal - August 6, 2001

Akron Beacon Journal

by Candace Goforth

Women in Ohio have less earning power and attain fewer four-year college degrees than their sisters across the nation, recent studies show.

According to supplemental data from the 2000 census, Ohio women earned 57 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts — about 6 cents less than the national average for women.

Only five other states ranked worse.

The dramatic numbers have raised questions about what is happening in the state. Local economists and women’s advocates offer differing answers, ranging from lifestyle choices to discrimination.

The comparisons made in the census survey do not take into account factors such as hours worked, experience, education or even positions held. In other words, part-time workers are lumped in with full-time workers, business owners with clerks.

But most observers agree that, despite those limitations, the data illuminate a troubling trend.

“When you do all those controls, you still have a gap left,” said George Zeller, senior researcher for the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland. “There are still pay inequities out there between men and women. Men are being paid more for the same work than women. That’s not the main factor or the only factor, but it’s a factor that you cannot leave out.”

Median pay compared

A yet-to-be released report by the Cleveland economic research institute Policy Matters Ohio echoes the warning sounded by the census data. The State of Working Ohio report, to be issued on Labor Day, shows that Ohio women earn a median wage of $10.80 per hour compared with $14.64 for men. That means women earn 73.8 cents for every dollar earned by men. Nationwide, women earn 78.6 cents for each dollar earned by men.

The numbers, based on data from the 2000 Current Population Survey, are higher because the local study compares women’s earnings with men’s on an hour-for-hour basis. The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey tracked all earnings over a year.

Still, even using different data, the gap between Ohio and the national average surfaces in both studies.

Connie J. Young, president of Akron’s Women’s Network, said the reports reflect a trend she has observed throughout her career.

“I sit on a couple of boards where we get a chance to determine salary,” said Young, a motivational speaker and owner of C.J. Young & Associates. “I listen to the rationale as to why men should make more money. I see where people don’t want to give women their full worth.”

But Christine Stolba, author of Women’s Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America, said the earnings discrepancy doesn’t necessarily mean gender discrimination is rampant in Ohio — or anywhere else, for that matter.

“There’s no reason to adopt an alarmist stance and assume that the average wage gap means that women are shortchanged,” said Stolba, a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington, D.C. “In fact, there are common-sense explanations for why that gap exists.”

Lagging in education

One possible explanation for the wider gap in Ohio is education. Women in Ohio are behind the national average in the pursuit of four-year college degrees, which, in general, bring higher salaries.

For example, 18.8 percent of Ohio women 25 or older hold bachelor’s or higher degrees, compared with 23.3 percent nationally. Ohio women fare even worse in advanced degrees.

Only 5.8 of Ohio women have postgraduate or professional degrees, compared with 8 percent of the men in the state. The national average for women is 7.8 percent.

The wage-gap issue also is part of an overall problem for Ohio: Women with high earning potential — like men who earn high wages — are moving out of the state, said Kathy Dean, chairwomen of Medina/Akron 9to5 National Association of Working Women.

The 2000 census found that in the past decade, Ohio lost a larger number of people in its core work force — 146,000 people aged 20 to 54 — than any other state.

“Jobs aren’t coming to Ohio, and people are leaving,” Dean said. “The top-dollar-making women have also moved, and it leaves behind the poorer people.”

Dean also blamed welfare reform for putting Ohio women behind men in earnings. “So many of those women who are working had to get a job making minimum wage or just above,” she said. “Yeah, we put more women out in the working world with welfare cuts, but we didn’t give them livable wages.”

Manufacturing jobs

One widely accepted reason for Ohio women’s failure to keep pace is the large role the male-dominated manufacturing industry plays in the state’s economy. Nearly one in every five Ohio workers — 19.6 percent — is employed in manufacturing, compared with the national average of 14.2 percent.

In Ohio, men hold 71 percent of such higher-paying blue-collar jobs, which is one reason the median pay among Ohio men is $31,280, above the national median of $30,132. In contrast, Ohio women’s median pay of $17,873 is below the national median of $18,996.
At the median, half of all workers earn more, and half earn less.

Women make up the majority of workers in the lower-paying service jobs, including education, health care and food preparation.

Off the career track

Finally, women often leave their jobs — or cut back their hours — to care for children. When they return to the work force, they are unable to command the wages they would have been earning had they stayed on their career track, getting promotions and gaining experience along the way.

But some people insist women aren’t given many options in those decisions, either.

“The so-called rational choices are made because there are no other choices,” said Cuc Vu, senior program specialist at the AFL-CIO Working Women’s Department based in Washington. “I think it’s stretching it a little to say, `You decided to do this, and therefore you suffer.’ What are they suggesting, that women not have children?”

Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, said her organization works with policy makers and elected officials to find solutions to the issues raised in the State of Working Ohio report, such as pay equity.

“Women’s wages have risen — just not as a percentage of men’s wages,” Hanauer said.

“My gut instinct on what we ought to be doing is support policies that raise wages from the bottom across the board.”

She said she advocates, among other measures, raising the state minimum wage above the federal level, something 10 others states have done.

But Zeller of the Council for Economic Opportunities, who also sits on the board of directors of Policy Matters Ohio, believes the problem requires more than policy changes. He said it requires a shift in societal expectations.

“The question is, Why is it that so few women are in CEO jobs? You can’t tell me no women were ever qualified,” Zeller said. “Despite the laws, despite the changes in attitudes, there is still discrimination by sex. To quantify how much this accounts for the disparity (in earnings) is a matter for the sociologists to determine.”

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