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Job growth for women in lower-paying industries leading to lower overall earnings

On the eve of International Women’s Day, women workers in the United States are facing a larger wage gap that has grown for women in all major race and ethnic groups, according to analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 80.9 percent in 2012, a decline of more than one percentage point since 2011 when the ratio was 82.2 percent.

Women’s earnings may have been hurt by budget cutbacks and the loss of public sector jobs at the local and state level. These are often medium and higher skilled jobs with smaller wage gaps than lower-paying industries, such as retail and hospitality, which saw strong job growth in 2012.

“Job growth in retail and hospitality, while welcome, often involves low paid jobs,” said Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR. “Women are more likely than men to work in minimum wage jobs and the stall in minimum wage increases disproportionately affects their earnings.”

The wage gap serves as an important indicator of women’s progress in the labor market. After rapid progress in the 1980s and early 1990s, movement began to slow. Another measure of the earnings gap, the ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers, including self-employed workers, was 77.0 in 2011 (data for 2012 are not yet available). This is slightly less than half of a percentage point than in 2010, and is equal to the gap in 2009.

“Closing the gender wage gap requires a combination of approaches such as tackling discrimination, properly valuing women’s care work, and creating better policies and programs to educate and train women for higher paying jobs,” said Ariane Hegewisch, Study Director with IWPR. “In the United States, we need family supports that no longer put women between a rock and a hard place for wanting to both care and provide for their families.”

The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women's studies, and public policy and public administration programs at The George Washington University.


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