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Report: Wyoming college-educated women earn less than men with high school diplomas

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Gender Wage Gap

Marissa Brammer, a third-year business administration major, and Robert Berlin, a freshman engineering major, filter their chemical mixture of sodium hydroxide during their basic chemistry class last year in the Wold Physical Science building at Casper College.

College-educated women in Wyoming earn less than men with only high school diplomas, according to a new report that examined the disparity between wages based on gender.

Women in Wyoming with bachelor’s degrees earned on average $38,312 annually, compared to high school-educated men, who earned $43,740. The report, “Wage Gap between Wyoming’s Men and Women: 2016,” used a variety of state and federal data to analyze wages by gender.

Men with bachelor’s degrees earned $54,710, according to the 35-page report released by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.

The Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming researched the report with Cathy Connolly, a UW Gender and Women’s Studies professor who is also a Democratic state lawmaker from Laramie.

“The cumulative effect of the wage gap over a lifetime of depressed economic status for Wyoming’s women includes not only the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income but also retirement security — putting our state’s women, families and communities at risk,” Connolly said.

The gender-pay gap hasn’t improved in Wyoming in over a decade, despite it being a frequent topic of discussion among economists, women’s groups and some lawmakers. In 2003, the Wyoming Legislature paid for a study that confirmed the gap, examined the reasons behind it and offered recommendations to narrow the wage differences.

Despite the effort, Wyoming ranked 49th in the nation last year in the difference between wages among full-time workers, with women earning 69 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Equal wages for equal work is a fairness issue, but it also affects families, the report states.

“Wyoming’s working families, especially in rough economic times, rely on the wages of all members to make ends meet on a weekly basis, as well as to plan for the future,” the report stated. “Equal pay is therefore not simply a women’s issue – it’s a family issue.”

Much of the gap is attributed to differences in the jobs worked by men and women. Men typically work in mining and construction, which pay at or above national norms. In 2013, men’s wages in Wyoming were seventh highest nationally. Women’s were only 22nd.

“In contrast, jobs that typically employ women pay significantly below the national norm,” the report states. “The combination of better-than-average pay for jobs held by men with the lower-than-average wage for jobs held by women explains a good part of the wage gap.”

Men and women choose different degrees in college. Almost half of college-educated men in Wyoming have earned degrees in science and engineering. The largest degree field for women is education, the study said.

“Ultimately, decreasing the wage gap will mean working towards both encouraging women to consider degrees and careers that are typically male-dominated, as well as compensating careers that women dominate such as health care and education, equitably,” the report said.

The report found that women working in mining earned on average $54,787 — $21,000 less than men’s average wages. Many women in mining are not working in the mines themselves, but rather in offices or other support positions, the report stated.

But Jonathan Downing, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said the industry is much more diverse than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Women who chose mining have a great future, he said.

“The industry wants to provide opportunities,” he said. “If you have the skill set to participate — whether it’s operating a dragline or acting as an environmental engineer, we definitely want you.”

Discrimination is playing into the gender-wage gap, the report stated.

Last year, 78 Wyoming workers filed claims of sex discrimination to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. The state sent 12 to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the report stated.

The federal government secured $63,902 for people who filed sex discrimination claims, the report stated.

The report offered over a dozen proposals to narrow the wage gap. The Legislature should continue to try to diversify the state’s economy, and should increase the minimum wage, since many minimum-wage workers are women.

One proposal called for increased wage transparency for public and private sector employees. But in the legislative session that ended last month, lawmakers in the House killed a bill that would have allowed workers to discuss their wages without fear of their employers punishing them.

Rep. Mary Throne sponsored the measure. She said it was a new idea in this year’s session and it was the beginning of a discussion.

“I think the majority of the Legislature don’t believe the gender-pay gap is an issue of concern,” said Throne, a Cheyenne Democrat. “I think the first thing is to help them understand what it means and why it’s not good for Wyoming and then look for tools we’re comfortable using to improve the situation.”

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.

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