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Cathy Connolly

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, speaks Sept. 28 in Laramie. Connolly has taken a lead role in legislative attempts to address Wyoming's gender wage gap.

Last week in Cheyenne, Gov. Mark Gordon signed a proclamation declaring June 10 as “Equal Pay Day” in Wyoming, underscoring one of the largest gender pay gaps in the nation.

At the time of signing the proclamation, however, Wyoming seemed to be doing better than it had in previous decades, where the state’s pay gap had been rated as one of the nation’s worst.

According to single-year data from the United States Census Bureau, Wyoming’s gender pay gap was now ranked 39th in the nation – contradicting findings from an extensive Department of Workforce Services study released last fall. According to that study, the average woman in Wyoming earned between 26 and 32 cents less for every dollar a man made, with 13 cents of that gap unable to be explained by the employee’s chosen industry, their level of experience, or other factors.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, a proponent of narrowing the state’s wage gap, said the news of Wyoming’s improvement is greatly exaggerated.

While Wyoming’s gender pay gap has improved, rising from 51st in the nation to somewhere between 48th and 50th based on the metric you use, the reality is the state’s wages are still experiencing a hangover from the Great Recession, with declining wages for males over the past 10 years one of the driving factors in reducing the wage gap.

“Even though wages in Wyoming are very good for men – we’re 12th in the nation in that three-year composite data base – we were between 8th and 10th about 10 to 15 years ago,” said Connolly, who based her research on three-year averages from the American Communities Survey – a more accurate gauge for the state’s wage gap. “What we see is that the very good wages for men aren’t as good as they used to be in general.”

Meanwhile, women’s wages have remained stagnant, right in the center of the national average – another contributor to the state’s wage gap.

“By no means are women’s wages in Wyoming bad in comparison to the rest of the nation – again, we’re right in the middle,” Connolly said. “But that gap between women and men’s wages being so much better and women’s wages being average gives us the gap we have.”

Fixing the gap

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Connolly pushed a suite of bills intended to combat the state’s gender pay gap in the 2019 session, passing just one. She does not intend to give up trying, however.

In a meeting with the Wyoming Women’s Foundation last week, Connolly pitched a number of legislative solutions to addressing the gap. Ideas included laws to permit wage transparency without retaliation against workers, pushing for an increase to the state’s minimum wage (which currently sits below the federal minimum wage), and to add language mandating any recipient of state funds to break down jobs by sex and wage and to show recruitment efforts that target women, among other solutions.

“The interim has taken off, and it’s time to start considering what policy measures to bring forth in the next session,” said Connolly. “I don’t want to drop this issue just because we’re in a budget session. I think it’s important this stays on our radar.”

Even facing a budget session in 2020 – where legislation pushed by individual lawmakers requires a two-thirds vote for introduction – Connolly believes she can gather enough support from her colleagues to push a number of these ideas, several of which gained substantial amounts of traction in the Wyoming House of Representatives this past winter.

“That’s a heavy lift,” she said. “But I was very intrigued by the method some legislators took with individual-level bills this past year, where they had basically lined up support for the bill before the session. We saw bills come out with 30 people as co-sponsors. There might be some thought to try and go in that direction, to say ‘we’re ready for this right now.’”

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Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds

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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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