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Report: Gender Wage Gap Holds Steady in PA After Decades of Shrinking

November 3, 2008

Harrisburg, PA - Millions of Pennsylvania women have been in the work force for decades now, and an hour worked by a woman still doesn't pay as much as it does for a man. For years, that "gender wage gap" had been closing, but a new study from the Keystone Research Center finds progress has stalled. Women in the state earn 78 cents for every dollar a man gets, and that's roughly the same as in 2001. Report author Mark Price says one of the problems is that many low-wage jobs like child care workers and waitstaff are held predominately by women.

"In an economy where you don't have strong job growth, it's much harder to move women out of those low-paying occupations into higher-paying fields."

He says it isn't necessarily the case that those jobs are less skilled or important than higher-paying work, but that a lack of policies that lift wages, create jobs and remove barriers to unionization has made it difficult for women to move up the wage ladder.

Price notes the study also found that there still seems to be a "glass ceiling" for women in management positions. He says that should continue to change over time, but there are ways to help women keep moving up, while also improving family life.

"Things like better access to high-quality child care, better-paid family and sick leave would also go a long way towards creating more balance. It would give women more opportunity to take time off to care for a sick child or parent, and because it would also extend to men, it would create more overall attention to parenting."

Price says some simple policy changes like raising the minimum wage could go a long way towards closing the gender pay gap. He adds that women workers would also benefit from more training programs and policies that make it easier to join a union.

"Workers that are represented by unions have higher earnings and, in particular, low-wage workers can benefit with earnings that are sometimes as high as twenty percent higher. Making it easier for workers to choose to join a union would go a long way towards improving the status of women."

Opponents of greater unionization say it's bad for business and could lead to a loss of jobs. Price counters that unions make sure that workers have more purchasing power, which is generally good for the economy and job growth.

The report is online at www.keystoneresearch.org.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - PA