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Report: Gender wage gap narrows slightly

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2001

The wage gap between the sexes is shrinking in Alaska, but women continue to earn significantly less than men in all industries, age groups, geographic areas and most occupations, according to a new state report.

Women on average earned $20,079 in 1999 versus $30,066 for men, wrote Jeff Hadland, author of the report published in the October issue of Alaska Economic Trends.

However, that's an improvement of 5 percent over past years. Women earned 62 percent as much as men in 1988 compared to about 67 percent in 1999, said Hadland, an economist with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"The gap is narrowing," said Hadland, who pegged the national wage gap at roughly 72 percent.

Change isn't coming fast enough for Rep. Beth Kerttula, who was disappointed in the findings.

"That's a pretty long time to not come very far," said Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat. "It's good it's gone up, but it should be 100

percent, and that should be an immediate goal."

The largest pay gap was in manufacturing, which includes mostly seafood and timber processing jobs. Women earned 58 percent of what men earned in that industry two years ago.

The smallest pay gap was in services, which includes jobs in law, hotels and health care. Women in that industry earned almost 80 percent of average wages earned by men.

Also, women fared worse in the private sector than in state and local government. The ratio of female-to-male earnings was 62 percent in the private sector versus 74 percent in the public sector, Hadland said.

The report did not analyze the reasons for the pay gap but Hadland offered some possible explanations. Women who leave the workforce or work part time to care for their families are at a disadvantage because experience and tenure on the job command a premium in pay, he said.

Education also may play a role. Although women in their 20s are more likely to have a bachelor's degree than men in that age group, men earn doctoral degrees to a much greater extent than women, said Hadland, noting that could explain why men get the highest paying management and professional jobs.

Another possible explanation is sex discrimination.

"Discrimination or other barriers may exist in hiring, training, advancement or pay rates," he said.

Pam LaBolle of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce believed the disparity had more to do with women leaving work to tend children than discrimination.

"I've worked in other states, in other places, and I have seen" discrimination, said LaBolle, president of the chamber. "I don't see it in Alaska."

Kerttula leaned the other way.

Discrimination "is much more in line with what I think is happening," she said.

The report found the most lucrative industry for both genders was mining, which includes oil and gas jobs. Men on average earned about $60,000 in 1999 compared to $45,652 for women. That industry was dominated by men, who held 87 percent of nearly 9,000 jobs, Hadland said.

The second-highest wages for men came from the transportation, communications and public utilities industry, which paid on average about $39,000 a year for men and $25,000 for women.

State government paid the second-highest wages for women, who earned $28,581 in 1999 versus $38,780 for men.

Women's wages fell short in all industries but they took home higher salaries than men in several occupations. For example, women legal secretaries earned 192 percent of male earnings in that occupation in 1999, Hadland said.

"These earnings, however, are less than the average earnings figure for males, and the same is true of other occupations in this group," he said.

The report is available on the Internet at http://146.63.75.50/research/.

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Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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