The economy is doing marginally better, but women's pay is doing marginally worse.
For much of the past three decades, the wage gap between men and women began to shrink. But progress has slowed in recent years, and the wage gap has actually widened during the current recovery, according to a new study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
In 2012, women working full-time earned 80.9 percent of what men earned in terms of weekly pay — a drop from 82.2 percent in 2011, according to the IWPR study. In terms of annual earnings, women lagged men even further, making just 77 percent of what men earned, a half a percentage point down from 2011. In dollar terms, that meant that women working full-time earned an average of $691 a week in 2012, less than they had in 2011, while men earned $854 on average, which marked a small gain over their 2011 earnings. (The study didn't evaluate men and women's earnings in comparable jobs or life choices, and it excluded part-time jobs.)
While women are still significantly closer to earning what men do than they were decades ago, progress had already been slowing for years, and this recent setback means that it could be even longer before women earn as much as men.
Ariane Hegewisch, one of the IWPR researchers who conducted the study, says that it's typical to see a wage gap between men and women during an economic recovery, and the disappearance of middle-wage jobs has been a particular blow to women.
"Job growth in the last year has been in retail, catering, and minimum-wage jobs where women are more likely to be at minimum wage," she says, noting that higher-paying retail jobs like car sales are dominated by men.
Essentially, the hollowing out of the middle class has dealt a particular blow to women and their earning power. Women held a disproportionate number of public-sector jobs that haven't come back, even as the immediate bleeding from local and state budget cuts has slowed. And while bonuses and merit pay have begun to return for the highest wage-earners, women are still underrepresented in the best-paid jobs, Hegwisch points out. "At the bottom of the labor market, it is more equal between men and women," she explains. "But equality can also be equality in misery."