Tuesday, July 16, 2024

State Women's Commission launches effort to close gender pay gap

by By Carleen Johnson/The Center Square
| July 2, 2024 1:20 AM

(The Center Square) — The Washington State Women’s Commission has launched a campaign aimed at closing the gender pay gap in Washington state.

The campaign is called Activate 3.8.

Women’s Commission Executive Director Grace Yoo says the goal is “to fully activate the economic potential of our 3.8 million Washington women.”

Yoo told a crowd of supporters gathered Friday at Nectar Lounge in Seattle, “We are doing this because it’s 2024, and we still have this thing called the gender wage gap and it’s pretty bad in our state.”

The National Partnership for Women and Families found that women in Washington made $18,400 less in average wages than men in 2022. The commission claims that is the largest gender-based wage discrepancy in the nation, second only to Utah.

“The gender wage gap is even larger, much larger for women of color, who face the intersecting biases around race, ethnicity and gender,” said Yoo. 

According to the Washington State Women’s Commission:

• Latina women make $35,402 less than white, non-Hispanic men.

• Native American women make $31,587 less than white, non-Hispanic men.

• Black women make $28,405 less than white, non-Hispanic men.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who created the Washington State Women’s Commission in 2018, attended the event.

“It’s time for equal pay for equal work in the state of Washington," Inslee told the audience.

“I’m proud that of all the cabinet appointments I’ve made in the state, 50% have been women,” the governor continued. “That is a real significant improvement.”

According to the Washington State Women’s Commission, there are many reasons the Evergreen State state lags in terms of a pay gap.

The overrepresentation of men in industries like technology and aerospace, where workers earn some of the highest salaries in the state, skews the wage distribution, the organization claims, noting that when women pursue jobs in lucrative professions and those fields become more female-dominated, salaries drop.

The Washington State Women's Commission cited a 2016 Cornell study that found when more women entered biology, wages dropped by 18%.

An August 2022 Hoover Institution post challenged the gender pay gap argument, specifically taking issue with a Wall Street Journal piece that suggested the pay gap is primarily driven by sexism.

Richard Epstein, who authored the Hoover Institution article, took issue with the Wall Street Journal's examples of male and female college graduates who went to work at an accounting firm. After three years, the men were making a median salary of $155,000, while their female colleagues, earned $99,000. The salaries in and of themselves don't necessarily mean sexism as at work, according to Esptein.

“The key weakness in this presentation is the implicit assumption that the two classes of workers provide equal benefit to their firms," he wrote. "The analysis does not control for other variables that likely contribute to the observed wage gap, such as the advanced courses they took in college, the grades they received in these courses.”

Epstein said women, especially once married with children, often want a different balance between work and home life.

"They are, as a group, far more likely to be involved in child-raising, and thus may prefer jobs that have less travel, shorter hours, and opportunities to work from home," he explained. 

Differences in salaries between men and women aren't prima facie evidence of discrimination, he reiterated.

“We should rarely think 'discrimination first”' in the workplace," Epstein concluded. "The American economy derives its strength not from massive, misguided forms of government intervention, but from the decentralized and voluntary decisions of ordinary men and women. Men and women do not always make the same decisions.”

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, on average, women employed in the U.S. lose a combined total of more than $1.6 trillion every year due to the wage gap.

The next stop on the 10-city tour for Activate 3.8 is in Spokane at Gonzaga University on July 27.