Almost equal numbers of men and women held jobs in the Kenai Peninsula Borough economy during 2001, yet according to an analysis of these latest state figures, the average annual salary among women was barely more than half that of men.
That kind of wage gap is reflected across the state, but only two of 27 local economies surveyed by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development showed a gap wider than that on the peninsula.
In 2001, women in the Kenai Peninsula Borough earned on average 55 cents for every $1 earned by men. Only the Valdez-Cordova area, at 53 cents per $1, and the Denali Borough, at 38 cents per $1, had wider gaps.
In an article for the September issue of Alaska Economic Trends, a monthly magazine published by the department, labor economist Alexander Kotlarov said, based on total annual average earnings, women earned 66.4 percent as much as men statewide in 2001. The gap is widening. In 1999, the percentage was 66.8 percent. Another statistic showed women earned an average of $11,000 a year less than men in 2001. That's up from the $10,000 difference in 1988, Kotlarov said.
Nationally, women's salaries average about 76 percent of men's.
Some have argued discrimination as a cause, but Kotlarov said there is insufficient data to support that claim.
"Many other factors affect total earnings: career choices, differences in full-time versus part-time work, level of education or training, and years of work experience," he said. "Most of these factors cannot currently be measured."
Such earnings differences can be found across all industries and age groups, almost all geographic areas and most occupations, Kotlarov said.
Women earned less than men in 2001 in all Alaska industries, state figures show. Men averaged $32,618 a year, while women averaged $21,644. On the peninsula, however, that divide was much wider. Men here averaged $30,868, while women averaged $16,835.
Women who may want to find higher salaries might look to the natural resources industries, including oil and gas and mining. There, according to state figures, women did well, with average annual earnings of $43,305. However, women represented only 14 percent of the work force in that sector.
Natural resources and mining (considered as one industry sector), along with construction, are examples of "heavily male-dominated industry," Kotlarov said.
So are manufacturing and the lumped sector comprised of trade, transportation and utilities, which had 57 percent and 56 percent wage gaps, respectively the broadest differences of all industry sectors, state figures showed.
The gap was wider in the private sector than in the public sector. Indeed, public employment tended to close the gender gap significantly, no place more so than in local government, where state figures show women earned about 82 cents to each $1 earned by men in 2001. Wage figures were not immediately available for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, but the borough does employ about 163 men and 89 women, according to the borough's Human Resources Office.
Kotlarov said in terms of real wages, the sectors with above-average female income where the numbers of male and female workers was fairly even, were state government and information which includes such things as traditional publishing companies and computer-related businesses.
While men dominate heavy industries like oil and gas, mining and manufacturing, women greatly outnumber men in education and health services, the sector most heavily dominated by women at 77 percent of the work force. That sector ranks fifth in average annual earnings for females at $25,904 in 2001, the state figures showed. Women also held "the large majority" of jobs in the sectors of financial activities and local government.
Part of the reason for the gender gap has to do with how men and women are employed. According to state figures, the top five occupations among women are retail salesperson, office clerk, cashier, bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks, and teacher assistants. Meanwhile, the top jobs for men were construction laborer, material mover, retail salesperson, carpenter and janitor.
Statewide, differences between wages were apparent even in occupations employing more women than men. For instance, among retail salespersons in 2001, the 7,633 female workers earned an average $11,183 a year, compared to the $19,268 earned by the 5,186 male workers. Women made up almost 80 percent of all general office clerks, but, on average, earned only 85 percent of the wages paid to men.
Besides the impact of the oil and gas industry, the seafood processing industry and the resource industry had large male work forces and much smaller female work forces.
Kotlarov said Monday there were 1,256 men and 473 women in the processing industry, and 1,441 men and 144 women in the resource extraction industry. In processing, women earn about 40 percent per year what men do, and in natural extraction, about 46 percent.
Kotlarov said female workers in retail trade earned an average of $9,926 a year. That's a much lower average wage than in Ketchikan ($12,319) and Kodiak ($12,976).
"These factors are, in part, responsible for a higher gender difference in earnings on the Kenai Peninsula," he said.
The state analysis also listed the top male and female employers across the state, some of which are Kenai Peninsula employers.
The state topped both lists, employing 8,073 men and 8,258 women in 2001. The University of Alaska was second in men, and third in women. The Anchorage School District flipped those places, coming in third in men, and second in women.
The men's list followed with Safeway Inc., the Municipality of Anchorage, VECO Alaska Inc., Fred Meyer Shopping Centers, Wal-Mart Associates Inc., Alaska Airlines Inc. and BP Exploration Alaska Inc.
The women's list followed with Providence Health System Alaska, Fairbanks North Star School District, Safeway Inc., Fred Meyer Shopping Centers, Wal-Mart Associates Inc., Mat-Su Borough Schools and Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools. The work force at Kenai Borough Schools is 67 percent female, with 1,185 women and 577 men.
Bob Buch, an organizer with the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 367 in Anchorage, said a variety of factors contributed to wage disparity on the peninsula.
"You have a couple of industries down there commercial fishing used to have a lot of women (workers). Since the reduction in that industry, those jobs don't exist anymore," he said.
The other is the industrial sector, oil-related companies such as Agrium, Unocal and Tesoro have work forces that are primarily male. Women, by and large, are not getting into those jobs. What are available are retail jobs, Buch said.
Buch qualified his opinions, saying his perspective are biased toward unions. He said over the past 20 years, the oil industry has maintained what he said were low wages, little insurance and practically no retirement for nonunion labor.
Unions, he said, provide equal opportunity and do not discriminate according to age, race, past history or gender. Where women are moving into traditionally male-dominated occupations, such as construction, they are earning good money, he said. Women are less likely to see parity in nonunion, male-dominated professions, he added.
Women aren't flooding into previously male-dominated professions, however, Buch said. Part of the reason, is education.
"Kindergarten through 12th grade, schools are oriented to produce academic results. The reality is that 70 percent of (students) end up in the blue-collar work force," he said.
School curriculums should be modified to reflect the needs of high school students, he said.
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