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In Alaska, women still trying to equal men's pay

Posted: October 26, 2011 - 11:07pm
Caroline Schultz is an economist for the Department of Labor & Workforce Development. According to Schultz, Alaska women are making progress toward being paid the same as men, but the progress has been slow.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Caroline Schultz is an economist for the Department of Labor & Workforce Development. According to Schultz, Alaska women are making progress toward being paid the same as men, but the progress has been slow.

Alaska’s women are making progress in getting paid at the same rate as its men, but the progress has been exceedingly slow, said economist Caroline Schultz.

“The gap is closing very slowly,” she said. “At the rate they are going we’re not going to achieve pay or earnings parity any time soon.”

The study by the Department of Labor & Workforce Development’s Research and Analysis Section, published in this month’s Labor Trends magazine, determined Alaska’s women make 67 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The study is one of a series done every two years since 1988.

The 2010 study shows an increase of 2 cents on the dollar from 2008, but a gain of only about 5.5 cents since the first study was done in 1988.

The average Alaskan man earned $43,684 in 2010, compared to $29,323 for women, a difference of $14,361.

Schultz’ study looked at a number of factors that appeared to play a role in the differences, such as occupational and regional variations, but concluded the difference was not easy to explain.

The state’s highest paying industries — including manufacturing, natural resources and mining — are mostly dominated by men.

Jobs such as miners, mobile heavy equipment mechanics and electrical power line installers pay much better than state average wages, but have few women earning those wages, state employment data show.

The mobile heavy equipment mechanics field, for example, had a workforce of only 2 percent women, so while it paid, on average, $57,520, there were only 12 women doing that work, compared to 772 men.

A big part of Alaska’s wage disparity stems from the kind of jobs here, and who does them, Schultz said. That’s especially true in private industry jobs.

“Although natural resources and mining employed just 5 percent of Alaska workers last year, it had a disproportionate effect on the earnings gap,” she said.

Excluding those jobs, the difference in private sector wages would rise from 63 percent to 79 percent, she said.

Government jobs tended to have pay scales that were more closely equivalent among men and women, but that didn’t always boost women’s earnings.

Female office clerks, for example, earned almost exactly the same amount, as did male office clerks, but that amounted to only $17,220 per year. Of those holding office clerk positions, 78 percent were female.

“Women seem to be funneled into lower pay occupations,” Schultz said.

While government pay rates tend to be more equal, state government lagged local government in achieving parity, she said.

Women in Juneau earned more than women did statewide, on average earning 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. That trails places such as Bethel, which at 94 percent was closest to parity of any location in the state. Local government is the largest single employer there.

The widest disparity in earnings was in areas where the economy was dominated by natural resource or mining jobs, she said. The Denali Borough contains Healy and its Usibelli Coal Mine and had the widest income disparity, followed by the North Slope Borough, home of Prudhoe Bay.

“Women made less money than men in every major industry group in Alaska,” Schultz said, though in some specific occupations they made more.

In health care women saw some of the strongest salaries, with female obstetricians/gynecologists making twice what their male peers made.

Schultz said she expected the office to do an update of the study in two years.

 

 

Location Percentage

Bethel 94

Juneau 79

Matanuska-Susitna 75

Ketchikan Gateway 73

Anchorage 71

Fairbanks North Star 56

Denali 46

Note: Data from 2010

Source: Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Research and Analysis Section

 

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

 

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