Guest column

Equality State must lead by example in providing equal pay

By Robin Sessions Cooley
Posted 7/5/19

Wyoming’s official nickname is The Equality State. Wyoming has work to do to live up to that moniker.

June 10 was Equal Pay Day in Wyoming. It’s the day of the year that represents the …

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Guest column

Equality State must lead by example in providing equal pay

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Wyoming’s official nickname is The Equality State. Wyoming has work to do to live up to that moniker.

June 10 was Equal Pay Day in Wyoming. It’s the day of the year that represents the extra days in 2019 a woman has to work to earn the same amount of pay a man received for working in 2018. In other words, a woman in Wyoming has to work 17 months and 10 days to earn what a man in Wyoming earned in only 12 months. Remember also that the national Equal Pay Day was April 2. Wyoming does not score well here, either. We are behind the national average by more than two months.

Wyoming is a state of many firsts for women. We were the first state to grant women the right to vote — and, in fact, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of that milestone this year. We are proud to have elected the first woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross; appointed the first woman justice of the peace, Esther Hobart Morris; we had the first woman bailiff in the world, Martha Symons Boies Atkinson; we had the first all-woman town government in Jackson; and we swore in the first all-woman jury in Laramie. We now have yet another opportunity to set an example for others to follow in providing equal pay for equal work. What will it be?

There are many excuses offered to refute the data showing that women are paid less than men for the same job. I hear that, “Pay is based on experience, and some people have more experience,” and “Women don’t negotiate as well as men when discussing a starting pay rate,” and many others. However, to be clear, the wage gap data is determined as accurately as possible by comparing women’s pay to men’s pay in the same job, with the same background experience levels.

Certainly, we can all agree that pay for two different jobs, even if those jobs have the same title and duties, can and should vary based on experience, performance and other factors. But there is simply no denying the sheer volume of data comparing pay for equal jobs and experience levels, across all industries. It speaks to a very real gender wage gap here in Wyoming.

True, there are some jobs in Wyoming that favor women over men financially (women kindergarten teachers, for example, earn $1.14 to every $1 men earn in those jobs), and that is also a problem. But the majority of jobs in Wyoming pay men more than women to do the exact same work.

Still, overall in Wyoming, the average pay difference between women and men is 29.4 cents per dollar. If a man earns $1, a woman only earns 70.6 cents. Put in terms of real money for a real job, that means if a man makes $20 per hour, a woman might only make $14.12 for that same hour. Over a week, the man will earn $800, while the woman earns $564.80. And, at the end of the year, the man has made $41,600, but the woman has made just $29,369.60.

To be sure, this is an economic issue. Equal pay for equal work means families will benefit. Better incomes for households mean growing local economies and increasing state revenues for roads, school districts, law enforcement and other necessary services. For single moms and dads, it means better living wages with less need for welfare assistance and child support payments more in line with the actual costs of raising a child. In other words, equal pay benefits all of our communities.

In Wyoming, we have a real opportunity to once again show the world we are worthy of being known as The Equality State. So let’s get to work. Analyze your data, review your employees, sit down and run the figures and make adjustments you believe are needed to equalize these pay levels. You will develop more loyal employees in a time when workforce and retention levels are challenging — and you will be doing your part to show the world we are truly The Equality State.

(Robin Sessions Cooley is the director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. She is based in Cheyenne.)

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