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Studies show gender wage gap in Alaska

Posted: April 14, 2011 - 9:59pm  |  Updated: April 15, 2011 - 6:34am

Women in Alaska make significantly less money than men on average, according to reports by state and independent sources.

The National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit fairness advocacy organization, recently did a study using 2009 U.S. Census data. Portia Wu, vice president of the partnership, said women in Alaska made about 76 cents for every dollar men made on average. Nationally, the average was 77 cents. This data applied to industries across the board rather than any one specifically.

The report states that Alaska women as a whole lose more than $1.1 billion each year from this wage gap. It estimates women are paid about $12,000 less than their male counterparts here, so are individually losing nearly three years of family health insurance premiums, 3,000 additional gallons of gas, 90 weeks of food and seven months of mortgage and utility payments.

The report also states nearly 64 percent of Alaska’s women bring in more than a quarter of their families’ incomes and head more than 27,017 households. Furthermore, it states nearly 22 percent of women-headed households in Alaska are below the poverty line. Eliminating the wage gap would provide critical income to 5,916 such families.

“This new data illustrates the very real harm unequal wages are doing to families and the state,” Debra L. Ness, president of the partnership, stated in a release. “It is long past time to close the gender-based wage gap. With women playing an increasingly important role as family breadwinners, there is no time to waste.”

Work and Family Communications Manager Sadie Kliner said this inclusion of women’s financial roles for their families is a new part of their study.

“It’s especially important to look at what impact it’s having considering our economic times,” she said.

This report was done in conjunction with the American Association of University Women.

Data from the state of Alaska also shows women here to make less on average. In 2008, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development published an analysis on gender and wages using 2006 data. This report found that women on average overall earned 66.6 percent of what men did. This is an increase from 2000, when women were found to make 65.9 percent of what men did, and from 1990, which had it at 62.2 percent.

The report elaborates the percentage for the public sector, combining state and local government, was 79.8 percent, and was only 62.4 percent for the private sector.

The report also broke down wages by industry, showing women’s average wage in percentage of men’s as 67.1 percent in mining and natural resources, 76.6 percent in financial services, 66.4 percent in professional and business services, 76.8 percent in leisure and hospitality, 74.5 percent in state government, 86 percent in local government and 71.5 percent in education and health services.

National wage averages from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2009 state that women in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction made 79.9 percent of male annual averages, 76 percent in wholesale and retail, 83.5 percent in leisure and hospitality and 77 percent in education and health services.

“The wage gap, even in industries where women dominate like health care and education, shows there’s a bigger problem at work,” said Wu.

A data set from the 2007-2009 American Community Survey, showing three-year estimates, has the male average in Juneau at $41,323 and women earning $29,379. These numbers constitute 2009 months and are adjusted for inflation. The margin of error for those numbers is $4,364 for women and $3,390 for men.

The same chart shows estimates that Anchorage Municipality women averaged $29,217, while those in the Fairbanks North Star Borough averaged $25,359. It estimates men averaged $42,293 in Anchorage and $35,994 in Fairbanks.

Alaska economist Mali Abrahamson said statistics like these can often be hard to get completely accurate, as they’re estimates based on surveys. She noted that can be a lot of compounding and disparities in play.

Ginger Johnson of Juneau, who is retired from the Department of Transportation, said that wages shouldn’t be driven by gender but by experience and ability. She said this is the ideal taught to children and should be applied in business, and if people are doing equal jobs they should get equal pay. “It should be a continuing pursuit since so many women today are heads of households,” she said.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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