According to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, female workers in Wyoming, for example, earn just 65.5 percent of what men earn, worst of any state. In the nation’s capital, women fared best and are nearly at parity, making 94.8 cents on the male-earned dollar.
A 2013 study of the gender wage gap by the National Women’s Law Center found the typical woman worker in Idaho earns 75.2 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart.
There is no clear regional or political pattern: Arkansas women experience a narrower gender gap (15.9 cents) than women in New York (17.1 cents), for example.
Experts say reasons for the differences range from the states’ dominant industries to labor union status and the percentage of workers earning the minimum wage.
And they caution that the gender gap number doesn’t tell the whole story. Women might make less than men in Connecticut, for example, but a female worker there earns a median salary of $868 a week compared to a man’s median earnings of $1,127. In areas where financiers and lawyers are prevalent — like Connecticut — salaries between the genders, while higher, are more disparate.
In states where there are a lot of minimum-wage jobs, men’s and women’s pay are likely to be closer. An Arizona woman might take solace in the fact that she earns about 87 percent of what men in the state earn, but on average, she’s earning just $670 a week.
In straight salary comparisons, women fared best in the District of Columbia, where the median weekly salary in 2012 was $1,072, 94.8 percent of men’s $1,131. At the bottom by salary: Montana, where women earned $566 a week, 77.2 percent of men’s $733.
The national median weekly wage for men was $854 in 2012 compared to $691 for women.
Equal pay-related legislation was introduced in 11 states in 2013, according a summation prepared by the National Conference of State Legislatures for Stateline. A few examples:
Vermont recently adopted a sweeping package that requires state contractors to prove they are complying with Vermont’s equal-pay law, which says employers must pay equal wages, regardless of sex, for jobs that require “substantially equal, but not identical, skill, effort and responsibility.” The law also bans retaliation against employees who disclose their salaries (specialists say women are more likely to demand and get higher salaries if they know what others are being paid).
Oregon adopted a law ensuring equal pay for health practitioners.
Louisiana last summer enacted the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act, which protects state employees from gender-based pay discrimination if the worker is doing the same or “substantially similar” work.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced an ambitious Women’s Equality Act that addresses not just equal pay for the same job, but prohibits employers from denying jobs or promotions to women because they have children. The proposal also would allow women working in places with fewer than four employees (60 percent of New York businesses are this category) to file a sexual harassment claim. Currently, such small businesses are exempt.
Connecticut recently finished a report on pay equity that encourages employers to publish salary ranges for jobs.
Why such disparity between states? “It depends on the job structure and the industry” in each state, said Claudia Williams, a research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Wyoming, for example, has a lot of mining and cattle industry jobs dominated by men, Williams said, noting that some are family businesses in which some of the women are unpaid or paid low salaries.
The same holds true for West Virginia, where mining is a dominant industry, said Anne York, a business professor and gender equity specialist at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. “Anytime you have a (predominance) of something like heavy industry, you’re going to see men congregated in good-paying jobs. And if a state or locality has an abundance of those types of jobs, you’re going to see a greater pay disparity,” she said. Women earn 72.6 percent of what men do in West Virginia.
In Arizona, meanwhile, women make 86.8 percent of what men earn. The state has large numbers of population-growth driven jobs like construction or maintenance that are male-dominated but not well paid.