Women still fall short in wages

Men dominate in industry-related, high-pay positions

Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Despite some progress over the past couple of decades, on average the women of Alaska's labor pool still earn only two-thirds the annual income of men.

However, they come closest to parity when employed in financial or local government jobs, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Writing in the June issue of Alaska Economic Trends, a monthly publication of the department, economist and research supervisor Jeff Hadland showed that men earned more than $5.6 billion of the $9.2 billion paid out in wages and salaries in private sector and state and local government jobs in 2003, the most current year statistics available.

Compared to their general populations, the percentage of males and females employed in Alaska were about equal that year, but while men made up 52 percent of all workers, they earned 62 percent of the income. The greatest discrepancy occurred in the peak earning years between 40 and 54 years, Hadland said.

Comparing state employment records and Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend data about age, sex and residence allowed the Employment Security Division to analyze roughly 85 percent of Alaska's work force for pertinent gender and age differences. Those for whom no such information was available were primarily nonresident workers, the division said.

Men earned more than women in 2003, Hadland said.

In that year, the average annual income for women was $23,056, or 68.3 percent of the $33,762 average earned by men. That, however, was "a significant improvement" over 2001, when it was 66.4 percent, thanks largely to the fact that between 2001 and 2003 women's earnings grew faster than men's, the article said.

On the other hand, the rate of change toward parity appears to be grindingly slow. According to Trends, the wage ratio of female to male was 61.7 percent in 1988, meaning that in the 15 intervening years, that imbalance has been lessening by an annual average of just .44 percent.

At that rate, presuming no change in male factors, women would find complete wage parity sometime in 2075.

"The assumption might be that some sort of discrimination is at work, but there are a lot of factors," Hadland said.

Movement toward wage parity is driven by a variety of factors, including comparable education, acquisition of higher skills, even choices of career, and that movement may be tempered by differences due to work experience, the desire for full-time versus part-time work, seasonal work and child-rearing decisions.

"It takes a lot of time for these factors to work their way through the labor force" and manifest as real change, Hadland said.

Where men and women worked had much to do with earning power in 2003.

Men dominated in industries such as natural resource extraction, construction and manufacturing — typically high hourly-wage industries. The most common jobs were construction laborer, retail salesperson, (general) laborer, carpenter, janitor and operating engineer, the Labor Department noted.

Women dominated in other employment sectors, including financial activities, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality. Retail salesperson, office clerk, cashier, bookkeeper, secretary, nurse and jobs in the accounting field were the top reported occupations held by women.

Somewhat more women than men were employed in local and state government jobs, and it was there that women came closest to parity with men, earning an average of 86 percent the wages and salaries earned by their male counterparts, Trends showed.

The more a woman earned, the more likely she was to near parity with men in the same profession, the data showed. Hadland said that in occupations with more than 50 men and women workers, and where women earned an annual wage of about $36,000 a year, women earned at least 95 percent as much as men.

Examples of such occupations included door-to-door sales, installation/maintenance/repair, several teacher categories, computer systems analysts and sales representatives, he said.

The top three employers of women were the state of Alaska's executive branch, the Anchorage School District and the University of Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which em-ployed 1,168 women in 2003, was 10th on the list.

The analysis of the labor force indicated some of the effects of age. According to the data, large numbers of young workers enter the labor pool each year, just as an equal, though increasing numbers, reach retirement age.

"Although this presents an opportunity for young workers, it will place demands on training programs to fill the openings due to growth in employment, retirement of workers, and normal turnover resulting from job changes and normal out-migration (leaving Alaska)," Hadland wrote.

Citing registered nursing and operating engineers as benchmark occupations, Hadland showed nearly a third of nurses and 27 percent of operators were considered "older workers" nearing retirement.

"Both occupations are facing considerable replacement needs due to retirements over the next several years," he said.

The Trends analysis also included a look at measures of economic distress, such as the large numbers of working-age people who have no job and aren't looking for work. They are called "discouraged workers." Others who may work earn little because available jobs are only part-time or low-wage paying positions.

Statewide, 36.6 percent of those employed sometime during 2003 earned less than the full-time minimum annual wage of $14,872.

On the Kenai Peninsula, that percentage reached 41.8 — nearly 9,450 workers out of an employment field of 22,600.

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