Bringing the Economy Home

Understanding The Wage Gap Between Men And Women In Idaho’s State Workforce

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An office assistant, balancing on a stepladder to reach the top drawer of a filing cabinet

This morning, StateImpact published a report on the pay gap between men and women who work for the State of Idaho. Molly Messick joined Boise State Public Radio’s Morning Edition host Scott Graf to talk through the findings.

Q: First off, tell us a little about why you decided to look into this issue of pay equity in Idaho state government.

A: Sure.  Every so often, we see reports that compare the earnings of men and women nationally and by state.  In those reports, Idaho often falls at the bottom of the list in terms of the amount female workers earn compared to male workers.  In September, a report based on Census data showed that women working full-time in Idaho earn about 75 cents on the dollar earned by men working full-time.

Based on a tip from another journalist here in the state, I decided to see what the available wage and demographic data might show us about the earnings of male and female state workers.

Q: So what was your starting point, in terms of the data?

A: Well, I set out to get as much wage and demographic data for full-time state employees as possible.  There were some stumbling blocks, but we were able to get salary and demographic data for more than 19,000 state workers, along with their years of experience.  A basic analysis of that data shows us that there is a wage gap among state employees, and it’s one that widens over time.

Q: Explain what you mean by that.

A: When women and men are first starting out working for the state, the earnings difference is really small.  Women are earning about 95 cents for every dollar earned by men.  That gap grows.  By the time women and men have worked for the state for between 20 and 25 years, women are earning 81 cents on the dollar earned by men.

Q:  Can we draw any conclusions from that?

A: I’d be really cautious about doing that.  We don’t know why this gap exists.  We just know that it does.  But to try to put a finer point on it, I did decided to look at full-time classified employees. Those employees fall into the state’s pay grade system, and they make up about 60 percent of the full-time workforce.

Q: What does that tell you?

A: Well, looking at workers within pay grades should give you a sense of whether those men and women are receiving equal pay for equal work.  In other words, you’re asking: Are women and men who are in jobs that are said to require similar levels of skill and responsibility earning about the same amount?  Our analysis shows they are.

That’s significant, because the equal pay for equal work is the legal standard under the Equal Pay Act.

But there’s something else that we can see in that data.  It also shows that women are concentrated at the low end of the pay scale.  On the other hand, men outnumber women two to one in the higher-paid pay grades.

Another interesting thing I found in that part of that analysis is that one single job title, the title administrative assistant 1, is incredibly segregated by gender.  According to the state Division of Human Resources, 444 people in the state have that job title, and 424 of them are women.

Q: I know you’ve talked to the Division of Human Resources about your work.  What did they have to say about your findings?

A: I met with Vicki Tokita.  She’s Administrator of the state Division of Human Resources.  She says it’s really the legal standard – that equal pay for equal work standard – that they keep an eye on.  And they’re confident that they meet that standard.

I asked her about women being concentrated at the lower end of the pay scale, and she said she doesn’t believe that’s a symptom of any kind of glass ceiling faced by women.  She believes, rather, it’s a product of career and family choices.  She also believes this gap in women’s and men’s earnings will break down as more women go into careers that have traditionally been male-dominated.

Q: As we wrap up, I wanted to follow up on something you mentioned earlier.  You said you did hit some stumbling blocks in getting data.  What kinds of stumbling blocks?

A: Well, even though you can look up any state employee by name and find out what they earn, there’s a provision that says the state cannot release employees’ demographic data.  What that meant is that we couldn’t get all of the information broken down by agency, for example.  That’s because some agencies are small enough that we would have been able to work backwards and figure out who these people are — connect the demographic data to specific people.  That did impose some limits on our analysis.


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