How close are women in the Washington region to achieving pay parity with their male counterparts?
According to two recent studies, the pay gap for women is narrower in this region than it is nationally and in many other localities across the nation, a development that researchers largely attribute to the unusual level of transparency around compensation at one of the area’s largest employers: the federal government.
However, the situation is starkly different for the region’s minority women, who still lag far behind white men when it comes to pay.
A study by the National Women’s Law Center found that the District had the slimmest gender wage gap in the nation. According to that report, which evaluated pay on a state-by-state basis, women in the District make 90.4 cents for every dollar a man makes. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 77 cents.
Maryland also easily exceeded the national average, with women there making an average of 86 cents on the dollar compared with men. Virginia was closer to the national average, but still exceeded it, with women in the Commonwealth earning 77.6 cents on the dollar.
A second study, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, examined pay in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas. It found that women in the Washington area make 82 cents for every dollar a man makes. That would make the region’s gender pay gap the 14th-smallest, behind cities including Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Researchers say the workplace policies of the federal government — which employs more than 370,000 people in the Washington area— likely have played an important role in tightening the local wage gap.
Because of its clearly defined pay scales and the fact that its salary information is publicly available, “There’s a little more fairness in the way that wages are set,” said Sarah Crawford, director of workplace fairness at National Partnership for Women & Families.
Government workers or prospective employees can often leverage such information in pay negotiations, said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at NWLC.
Though researchers were encouraged by the region’s relatively favorable pay for all women, they see causes for concern in their findings about wages for minority women.
“You can’t break out the champagne, because the gap between white men and women of color is really just disturbing,”said Goss Graves.
NPWF found that African American women in the Washington area make only 64 cents for every dollar a man makes, while Latinas make 55 cents.
The findings of the NWLC study indicated an even greater divide: African American women in the District made 53 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women made 44 cents on the dollar. This means that while it concluded that the District had the smallest pay gap for women overall, it has the third largest pay gap for each group of minority women.
Goss Graves said this is largely because of what she called “occupational segregation,” in which minority women are overrepresented in low- and minimum-wage jobs.
For workers who hold these low-paying jobs, researchers say a step toward more equal pay could be especially helpful. Of the 266,000 households in the District headed by women, nearly 47,000 of those fall below the poverty line.
The NPWF study calculated that if the wage gap were eliminated, an employed woman in this region would have money for nine more months of rent or 107 more weeks of food.
“We’re hoping these findings are a clear and resounding wake-up call for politicians,”Crawford said, to take policy actions to help close the gap.