BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

The Persisting Wage Gap

Posted by egehl on September 24, 2009

It’s no secret that southern states including Louisiana have some of the worst quality of life statistics in the country. They continually hit the bottom of research studies when education, health, child welfare, income, crime and poverty is measured.  And unfortunately year to year it never changes.

Recently an organization called the American Human Development Project released a report entitled “A Portrait of Louisiana” that examines the state pertaining to three main areas: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. The data for the report was gathered through the lens of the human development concept.  This concept came from an international economist who argued that existing measures of human progress failed to account for the true purpose of development—to improve people’s lives. louisiana

In particular, he believed that the commonly used measure of Gross Domestic Product failed to adequately measure well-being.  As a result he developed the Human Development Index, a numerical measurement of what most people believe are the very basic ingredients of human well-being: health, education and income.

The findings about Louisiana are startling and in some cases puts problems facing the state on par with third world countries. However when I listened to the researchers’ presentation, the finding that struck me the most was the stark wage gap.  When they studied men and women across the state they found that while women have higher education and are living longer, they earn significantly less.

The researchers found that white men in Louisiana earn annual wages and salaries that are roughly $8,400 higher than the U.S. median. White women, African American men, and especially, African American women earn much less.  In fact, earnings for African American women is $14,993, which is $22,000 less than white men.

This is especially worrisome because Louisiana has one of the country’s highest rates of households headed by single women and they make up the majority of Louisiana’s poorest households. For female-headed families with children under 5, 3 out of 5 were living below the poverty line.  So the wage gap is having a huge impact on Louisiana, one of the poorest states in the nation, and helping to perpetuate our poverty rate.

money_signSo what can be done about the persisting wage gap? First education about equal pay must continue so that citizens have a keen understanding about its ramifications.  In addition, advocates can turn their attention to legislation at the state level.  In Louisiana, there is a bill entitled the “Louisiana Equal Pay Act” which would prohibit employers from paying compensation that discriminates against employees on the basis of gender.  During this year’s state legislative session the bill passed out of the House Labor Committee, but failed to pass the full House.

Other ways to tackle the wage gap is to implement a higher state earned income tax credit, address workplace gender discrimination through education and invest in the skills of Louisiana’s girls.

Since moving back to Louisiana, the wage gap is rarely brought up or spoken about by legislators, advocates and citizens.  I am hoping that this report will be a wake up call about a pressing issue facing our state. If we want to improve the quality of life of our citizens we cannot continue to ignore it.  Louisiana will remain at the bottom of poverty statistics unless we address the gap between men and women’s earnings.

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