What are women workers worth?

For years, Time magazine has a run a feature on the best places to live in the United States. But nobody ever ranked the best places for women — until now. A major factor for anyone’s quality of life, of course, is the ability to earn a living. And nationally, according to a new study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women workers pull in an average of just $38,000 a year, compared to $48,000 for their male counterparts.

But it varies dramatically from state to state. You could either be shortchanged or reap a relative bonanza all because of where you hang your hat.

Young women in the District of Columbia rake in the most, at nearly $54,000 a year, and Maryland women come in second at 40 grand. Way out west, Idaho is dead last at just under $25,000, edging out New Mexico and Mississippi for bottom-of-the-barrel honors.

And that ever-present pay gap with men? It’s better in New York. Though women in the state overall get just 87.6 percent of men’s pay, young women actually out-earn their male peers by 2 cents on the dollar — which puts that state at the top of the heap.

Women in Wyoming suffer the most in that regard, getting paid just 67.9 cents to their brother’s buck.

One reason could be that Wyoming women have their first babies much younger — at an average age of 23 — compared to their sisters in Gotham, who wait until they’re 27 or 28, giving them more time to get educated and start careers.

Some states are closing the gap faster than others, but it’s going to be a long time before women in any state reach parity with men.

Based on historic rates of change, Florida will be first, but not until 2038. And poor Wyoming won’t be equal for another century and a half.

There are a few other surprises. Well, maybe more than a few. For example, young women in D.C. binge drink more than those in America’s sin city, Las Vegas. Is that due to frustration with government gridlock? The report doesn’t say.

Researchers also look at depression. As you’d expect, sunny climes like Hawaii and California boast the happiest workers, while cold, rainy states are downers.

What’s a girl to do?

Since not everybody can just pick up and move, a better question is what the states can do to improve women’s lives. Providing better educational opportunities and higher pay, including a bigger minimum wage, would make great places to start.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics, and the Change We Need.

 

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Published: April 30, 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 03