Posted August 31, 2012 10:01 pm

Paycheck Gap is Real

On August 23, 2012, carolyn V. Brown of the League of Women Voters wrote an editorial to honor Women’s Equality Day titled “Equality – There is work to be done.” The op-ed talked about the issues still facing women, including the paycheck gap. In the comments section below, “noroadfugtive” disputed the idea of a wage gap between the genders, quoting Steve Tobak in a CBS News piece.

The Juneau League of Women Voters has been a stalwart supporter of a fair pay initiative I’ve been working on for over a year. I was very excited when carolyn Brown was appointed to the national LWV board. There are very few Wage Gap Deniers among women and there needs to be a constant drumbeat for pay equity.

The facts are that women in the United States of America (and elsewhere around the world) are too often paid less money than men for the same work. I’ve done a lot of research on paycheck fairness, and would like to share portions of a speech I gave on the topic to the Unitarian Church earlier this year:

To set the tone, let’s imagine that Mr. Jones hired Jack and Jill to go up Crow Hill to fetch pails of water. He promised them each a cookie when the job was done. Jack and Jill made it down safely without any broken crowns and without any tumbling. So Jack got his cookie, but Jill got her cookie and it had a big bite taken out of it.

On April 14, 2011, the Juneau Empire published an article by Jonathan Grass titled, “Studies show gender wage gap in Alaska”. His opening sentence was, “Women in Alaska make significantly less money than men, on average, according to reports by state and independent sources.” He was working from a National Partnership for Women and Families study that used 2009 U.S. census data. The study said that Alaskan women as a whole lose $1.1 billion each year from this wage gap.

I have to say that I was shocked. I had this totally unfounded notion that women in Alaska, especially in Juneau, were getting a fair shake wage-wise because the pay is usually higher here.

The article went on to say that, “A data set from the 2007-2009 American Community Survey (ACS), showing 3 year estimates, has the male average in Juneau at $41,323, and women earning $29,379.” That is almost a $12,000 gap.

In Anchorage women averaged $29,217, while men averaged $42,293. That’s a $13,000 gap. In Fairbanks, women averaged $25,359. Men averaged $35,994. That is a $10,635 gap. The United States Health and Human Services poverty guideline for an Alaskan family of four is $22,350.

The Juneau Economic Development Council published its 2011 Juneau and Southeast Alaska Economic Indicators around the same time the article came out, and again, I was surprised to see the wage disparity.

The JEDC had worse numbers for women than the 2007-2009 ACS report. It said that the average annual female salary in Juneau was $40,702 and the male’s salary was 42% percent higher at $57,749. The report said, “While Juneau women earn 15% more than women nationally, men in Juneau earn 27% more per year for full time employment than the national male average.” (Unfortunately, the 2012 JEDC report doesn’t include gender and earnings.)

In our city, there are more women than men with Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees. There are 214 men and 95 women with PhD’s, and yet Juneau men earn more than women at every level of education - from those who did not finish high school all the way to those who have Doctorate degrees. I believe this is the first time that gender, degrees, and income has been part of JEDC’s economic indicators.

No matter how you slice or dice the numbers, this is not fair.

The Equal Pay Act says that a woman must be paid the same wage as a man for the same work in the same establishment. The jobs don’t have to be exactly equal, but substantially equal. It spells out that pay differentials are permitted only when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or a factor other than gender. You would think that would cover it.

But we aren’t there yet. On April 17th, we marked Equal Pay Day. That is the day that American women had to work into 2012 to make the same amount a man made in all of 2011.

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was the first law that President Obama signed after taking office. Lily Ledbetter had worked at Goodyear Tire Company since 1979. On April 18, there was an article she wrote for the Huffington Post called “Why I Fight for Equal Pay for Women”. Lily describes the circumstances that led first to her lawsuit, and then to the law that bears her name.

She had been chosen as one of four managers to start the Radial Light Truck Division and later she was awarded the Top Performance Award. She says, “I’d known from the get-go I’d have to work longer and smarter than the men in order to prove myself. I came in early and stayed late to make sure my area was prepped properly. I rarely said no, never stopped learning, and never backed down. Over the years, my production numbers were high, my scrap low. I kept absenteeism in my department to a minimum. Now I was the first one they called when a machine went down.”

One day in the spring of 1998, she checked her mail at work and found a torn piece of paper with black handwriting in the stack. It showed a list of her and the other four male managers with their salaries. She says, “Reading the scribbled words, my heart jerked as if hit by a lightning bolt.” She was earning $44,724 while the highest paid man earned $59,000, and the other two earned $58,464 and $58,226.  They all had the same job.

She sued Goodrich and spent the next 11 years fighting in court. The court ruled against her, so she appealed it to the Supreme Court in 2007 and lost. In rejecting Ledbetter's appeal, the Supreme Court said that "she could have, and should have, sued" when the pay decisions were made, instead of waiting beyond the 180-day statutory charging period. The effect of the Court's holding was reversed by the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that President Obama signed into law.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which is languishing in Congress, focuses on gender equality in pay, and includes language that fills a big gap. This law makes it illegal for an employer to fire employees who talk about what they make. This is key. The only way Lily Ledbetter found out she was being discriminated against was that scrap of paper. The Fair Pay Act focuses on pay inequality based on gender, race or national origin. The Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act are in the “Hold File” somewhere in the bowels of Congress. In a radio interview on this topic last year, I asked, “What’s next? The Please Please Pay Us the Same as the Guys Act?

What if a young woman decides that higher education is the key to equal pay? She could be disappointed. In an article by Amanda Hess in the ironically named “Good News Network”, she writes, “In every field, at every level of education, men earn more than women.” “In short, education is valuable, but it’s most lucrative if you’re male.” “In the natural sciences – the only sector in which men and women earned fairly equal pay at the Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree levels, the equity was erased among advanced degree holders. Men with advanced degrees in natural sciences make about $2,600 more per month than their female peers.” Hess asks, “Couldn’t you use an extra $31,200 a year?”

Jonathan Grass noted in his article that, in Alaska, women head more than 27,017 households and nearly 22% of women-headed households in Alaska are below the poverty line. Eliminating the wage gap would provide critical income to almost 6,000 such families.

In the February 28, 2011 Forbes magazine, there is an article by a Mr. Vermeulen called “Wage differences between men and women – sexist or functional?” He starts by saying that there is no denying that women get paid less for doing the exact same job as men. He talks about skill levels, etc., but then he cites a study done by Isabel Fernandez at the London Business School.

She decided to measure wage differences between men and women temps where specific skills are irrelevant. The article goes on in depth about the variables, but in the end, Ms. Fernandez found that even in the temp jobs she studied, women were paid $25.08 an hour and the men were paid $29.66 for exactly the same work. Mr. Vermeulen concluded that the only explanation was gender discrimination.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, almost 50 years ago. It prohibits discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce. That should have done it. But it didn’t. The Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act are languishing. It can be discouraging.

Last fall, I was accepted as one of two Alaska delegates to an organization called Vision 2020, a Drexel University College of Medicine initiative begun in 2010 to achieve equality for women in five specific areas by the year 2020.

Each woman in Vision 2020 is working on one of five categories:

  1. Achieve pay equity
  2. Increase the number of women in senior leadership positions
  3. Educate employers about policies and practices that enable men and women to share family responsibilities
  4. Educate new generations of girls and boys to respect their differences
  5. Mobilize women to vote with a record-setting turnout in 2020

Vision 2020 is a smart, methodical, and well-funded enterprise created to make a real difference in a ten year span. There are 46 organizations that are Vision 2020 National Allies, including the League of Women Voters, meaning that they endorse Vision 2020’s mission and agree to participate in Vision 2020’s Campaign for Equality.

I am working on equal pay for equal work, and produced a video called “Be Cool. Negotiate.” for YouTube. I’ve also given copies to organizations and schools. Local actors Heather Paige, Jason Burke, Elizabeth Seitz show a woman going for an interview and negotiating to get a higher salary. Clint Farr produced the video and dedicated it to his young daughters.

You can see the Juneau-made pay negotiation video, “Be cool. Negotiate” at You can join Vision 2020 and support this ambitious equality initiative by going to




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