Alaska editorial: Alaska women working hard, deserve more pay

Posted: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

This editorial appeared in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News:

Here's a bit of information that should please Alaskans of both genders. Compared with the rest of the country, Alaska offers more opportunity in the working world for women. A higher percentage of women - two-thirds - are in the work force here. That's noticeably higher than the nationwide average of 57.5 percent.

No doubt part of the difference arises from the practicalities of living on what was, until relatively recent times, an isolated frontier. When you don't have a lot of people around, you can't be too persnickety about who might work for you. What matters is whether somebody can do the job. Questions like where that somebody went to school, or their gender or color, don't matter as much as they do elsewhere.

That's not to say Alaska is a prejudice-free paradise, untouched by the nation's legacy of discrimination against women. Despite more opportunity, women here still earn less than men - on average, one-third less, according to the state labor department.

It's not clear how much of the income difference is due to economically relevant factors, such as fewer hours worked, less education or less job experience. However, it would be foolish to think that the nation's long history of gender discrimination has nothing to do with it.

This persistent earnings gap takes some of the gloss off the news about the high proportion of women working in Alaska. More women have the inclination and opportunity to work here, but they don't necessarily reap the same payoff.

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