The District of Columbia ranks ahead of all 50 states in women's median wage, while Maryland is a close second and Virginia ranks eighth, according to a new state-by-state report on the status of women.

Nationally, women are still decades away from achieving pay equity with men, according to the report. When race is factored in, the wage gap is even larger and will take women of color longer to close. The difference among women shows up sharply in the District, where the median annual salary for black women is more than $20,000 less than for white women.

But overall, women who work full time in the city come closest to matching men's salaries, with a median annual salary of $37,800, 92.4 percent of what men are paid. The District also led the survey with 49.3 percent of women in managerial or professional positions.

"The federal government is relatively good for women because [equal employment opportunity] laws are very strict," said Amy B. Caiazza, director of the biennial study compiled by the D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research. The city also "draws very highly educated men and women," another factor often linked to high pay.

Maryland women's median income of $37,200 is 81.4 percent of what men there earn. The median marks the midpoint of salaries paid, with half of workers earning above that amount and half below.

Virginia is ranked eighth overall, with its women making a median income of $32,400 -- 77.9 percent of what men make. The state ranked 15th in 2002.

"Virginia is . . . losing its sort of characterization as a Southern, rural, manufacturing and farming state," said Heidi Hartmann, an economist and the Institute's president. "It's moving into white collar, service, high-tech, government, health care and education. When those sectors grow, women tend to do well."

Nationally, American women are paid 76 cents for every dollar men earn, the study of 2001-02 Census Bureau data found. Two years earlier, it was 72.7 cents on the dollar. If that wage gap continues to close at its current rate -- a little less than 0.5 percent a year on average over the past 13 years -- it will be another 50 years before it disappears, according to the statistical analysis. "Jobs that women do tend to be valued and paid less," said Hartmann. "It takes time to overcome people's idea that women aren't as committed to their work. Even when women work the same jobs as men, they will in fact experience discrimination in pay because of attitudes and expectations."

But the study also found a large salary gap between white women and women of color. Although District women have the highest median salaries in the nation, the city also has more women living in poverty than 47 states. Eighteen percent of its women live in poverty.

White women in the District make $55,200, while D.C.'s black women earn $33,700. Maryland's black women make $2,200 less than its white women, and black women in Virginia make $6,600 less than their white counterparts. Hispanic women in the District and Maryland make $27,600, while they make $25,300 in Virginia.

"Like most metropolitan areas, there is a high degree of inequality," Hartmann said. "There is a big high-wage sector and low-wage sector."

Nationally, compared with white men, white women made 70 cents on the dollar, all women made less than 68 cents on the dollar, black women made less than 63 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women were paid just slightly more than half of white men's median salary, the report said.

Caiazza said the study looked at the comparison with white men's salaries because men of color also suffer wage discrimination. Measuring against white men more clearly analyzed both gender and racial discrimination against women, she said.