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Persistent Wage Gap, Weak Job Growth Show Fragile Economic Status for Women as Equal Pay Day Approaches

April 11, 2012

(Washington, D.C.)  The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) today released a comprehensive look at the wage gap in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in advance of Equal Pay Day next Tuesday—the day when the typical woman’s wages catch up to those her male counterpart was paid the previous year. The typical woman working full time, year round is still paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to the typical man—a pay gap that translates to $10,784 in lost wages annually.  This persistent wage gap, combined with a weak economic recovery in which women have gained just 284,000 net jobs while men have gained over 2 million net jobs, shows the difficult economic reality facing many American women, according to NWLC analysis.

“In almost 50 years, the wage gap has only budged 18 cents,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger.  “When women are struggling to regain jobs in the recovery and families are relying increasingly on women’s wages, it’s especially critical to end the pay gap for women.  Since lost wages cut deeply into a family’s budget, equal pay is not an abstract principle for women and their families.  It’s key to their survival.”

Topline findings in the Center’s analysis include:

An additional $10,784 per year is enough to:

  • Pay the median mortgage payment and utilities for over ten months with over $700 to spare;
  • Pay the median cost of rent and utilities for a year with over $1,000 to spare;
  • Feed a household of four for a year and five months with more than $300 to spare;
  • Pay a year and a half of child care costs for a four-year-old with over $100 to spare.

The wage gap is larger for many women of color:

  • African-American women are paid only 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
  • These gaps translate to a loss of $19,575 for African-American women and $23,873 for Hispanic women each year.

NWLC’s state-by-state analysis of the wage gap includes a detailed breakdown by level of education, race, and occupation.  It reveals that the wage gap exists in every state and persists across races, education and occupations, with few exceptions:

  • Washington, D.C. has the smallest wage gap in the country.  Women in D.C. are paid 91 cents for every dollar earned by a man, followed by:  Vermont (84 cents), California (84 cents), Nevada (83 cents), New York (83 cents), and Maryland (83 cents).
  • Wyoming has the largest wage gap in the country.  Women in Wyoming are paid only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a man, followed by:  Louisiana (67 cents), Utah (69 cents), West Virginia (70 cents), and Indiana (72 cents).

Families depend on women’s wages:

  • Working single mothers head more than 6.3 million families.
  •  Nearly 1.8 million married couples with children rely exclusively on women’s earnings at some point, representing 7.4 percent of all married couples with children.
  • Over 58 percent of all married couples with children rely on both parents’ earnings.

Unequal pay affects the unemployment insurance women receive since benefits are tied to past wages:

  • The unemployment rate for women in March 2012 was 7.4 percent, just below the level it was at the start of the recovery in June 2009.  In contrast, the unemployment rate for men has dropped sharply since the economic recovery began, falling from 9.9 percent in June 2009 to 7.6 percent in March 2012.

The wage gap reduces women’s lifetime income, threatening their retirement security:

  • The typical woman who works full time, year round would lose $431,360 in a 40-year period due to the wage gap.
  • The average Social Security benefit for women 65 and older is about $12,100 per year, compared to $16,000 for men of the same age.

“At a time when so many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet—no woman and no family can afford to have employers discount women’s salaries,” said Greenberger.  “Closing the wage gap is more than just an issue of fairness.  It’s an economic necessity.  More money in women’s pockets will strengthen families and the American economy.”

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For more NWLC analysis of the wage gap and women’s economic status: