This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 but the latest statistics released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Tuesday show that women in the U.S. still made a little more than 82.2 cents for every dollar men made in 2011, the latest year available.
Pennsylvania was slightly worse than the national average with women's average weekly wages at 81.6 percent of men's.
Janice Madden, a labor economist at the University of Pennsylvania, said the disparity -- which is based on the annual average of median weekly wages for full-time workers -- is more a function of the jobs women are taking rather than pay for the same jobs.
Ms. Madden said the data show that "in states with larger non-urban populations, there are larger gender gaps." She explained that strength plays a bigger role in employment in rural areas so that men, who tend to be stronger, get jobs that pay more.
In West Virginia women make 74.7 cents on the dollar, while Wyoming has the widest disparity with women making just 69.7 cents on the dollar. That contrasts with California, which has the lowest wage disparity in the country, where women are earning 89.9 cents on the dollar. Women's earnings exceed 85.1 percent of men's earnings in only four states: Arizona, California, Nevada and Vermont.
The wage disparity is much less in areas where there are more white collar office workers, Ms. Madden said.
Pennsylvania's women are doing better than they were in 1997, when the federal data show that women in the state earned just under 72 cents on the dollar to men's earnings. Back then, the national rate was a little more than 74 cents on the dollar.
Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a policy analyst for the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., noted that while the wage disparity widened slightly in Pennsylvania in the years leading up to the Great Recession, the gap has been narrowing since.
In part, she said, that may be because men who are returning to work after the recession are being paid less.
A different measure of wage disparity is based on women's annual average wages. By that measure, women are doing much worse, earning nationally just 77.4 cents for every dollar men made in 2010, according to a study done by the National Women's Law Center.
In 1963 when the Equal Pay Act passed, women's average annual wages were just 58.9 percent of men's.
While men have been gaining ground in employment since the worst days of the Great Recession, women have not fared as well. Unemployment for men reached its recession high in October 2009 at 11.2 percent. At that time, the unemployment rate for women was 8.7 percent.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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