Career

The Gender Wage Gap: The Best and Worst States for Working Women

The idea of the glass ceiling may conjure images of shoulder pads and eighties movies, but unfortunately for women in the workplace, the double standard is very real — and it’s reflected in our paychecks. According to the American Association of University Women, which studies and tracks data about equal pay, the amount of money women will lose compared to men over their career clocks in at an alarming $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate, and $2 million for a professional school graduate. When you think about student loans, cost of living and planning for the future, it’s clear that the wage gap is hurting women, both now and in the future. This is an especially grim reality for women of color, who often earn even less than their Caucasian counterparts. 

While some state legislatures are fighting to close the gap, this is not a problem that seems to be going away anytime soon. Distressingly, a study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research actually found that most states were either stagnating or declining in making progress on equal pay. In a statement released with the report,  IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. stated: “With the economy finally thriving after the Great Recession and long recovery, women in most states have seen little progress on their economic status and some are seeing their status decline. If states really want to see their economies flourish, they will invest in improving the economic status of women, especially women of color.” Because information is power, take a look at the states with the best and the worst gender pay gaps, and see how your home stacks up. 

The Best

1. California

Thanks to strict equal pay laws, California has the narrowest pay gap in the country. At 89%, California women earn $46,783 to men’s $52,487. California has actually been fighting for gender equity in the workplace for decades, enacting the Equal Pay Act in 1949. In 2017, race and ethnicity were added to the act as protected categories. While California’s progressive leanings probably come as no shock, the Golden State continues to be a trailblazer in the fight for equal pay, with legal requirements that companies keep salary records; a state advisory board on pay equity; and the option of class-action lawsuits against companies who violate state standards. 

2. New York

New York also has a statewide Equal Pay Act, which was actually expanded in July of 2019 (the new law goes in to effect in October 2019). The new provisions include protections for categories including gender identity, familial status and domestic violence status, as well as lessening the burden on employees to prove discrimination.  Women in New York earn $48,901 on average, compared to $55,636 earned by men (making it a close second to California with a 88% equality rate). New York also boasts some rare protections, like requiring a liable employer to pay an employee’s legal fees after a settlement. 

3. Florida

Women are the breadwinners in over one million Florida homes, so it’s nice to know that the Sunshine State is third in the country when it comes to equal pay. Women in Florida earn 87 cents to the dollar of a man’s median salary (that’s $36,746 compared to $42,261, or 87%). Despite its high ranking, Florida actually has relatively few legal protections when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. While there is a state advisory board, Florida does not include equal pay protection for classes beyond sex, nor does it prohibit retaliation from employees who take legal action to secure equal pay. 

4. Delaware 

Delaware has an earnings ratio of 86%, with median earnings for men coming in at $54,657, compared to $47,052 for women. In 2017, Delaware Governor John Carney signed a law that prohibits employers from asking about a candidate’s salary history, both in interviews and pre-interview applicant screenings. The law, which garnered bipartisan support, comes at a time when minority women in Delaware are still falling behind in gender equity, with black and Hispanic women earning just 69% and 58% of what white men earn, respectively. 

5. Vermont

Vermont women earn 86 cents ($47,052) on the dollar compared to men ($48,924). Like California and New York, Vermont also has an Equal Pay Act, passed in 2017, which joins a 2005 Wage Disclosure Act (which gives Vermont employees the right to share and discuss wages). In 2015, The Vermont Commission on Women launched the Equal Pay Compact initiative, a voluntary pledge that helps women learn more about their rights, and encourages employers to make commitments to tangible change for equal pay. 

The Worst

1. Louisiana

Women in Louisiana have a median of $34,708 compared to $50,445 for men, making their earnings ratio just 69%. One of the reasons for Louisiana’s poor performance is that unfortunately, the state’s equal pay laws only cover employees that work in the public sector, which is only 17% of the population. According to local news publication The Advocate, state lawmakers have rejected 28 bills that could have narrowed the gap in the past decade. The state also lacks some fundamental tools, like an advisory board and educational support for employees. 

2. Utah

The earnings ratio for women in Utah is 71%, with men earning $52,249 compared to $37,252 for women (they previously topped the list, until Lousiana edged them out this year). According to US News, Utah has the highest percentage of women that work part-time, with four out of ten women opting for part-time careers. Analysts suggest that the high rate of motherhood is a significant factor in Utah’s gender pay gap, as motherhood can create gaps in a woman’s career trajectory. Alarmingly, one study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research actually found that women’s wages had decreased in the past few years. 

3. Indiana

The Hoosier state has an earnings gap of 73%, with men making $50,782, compared to $37,167 for females. According to the American Association of University Women, Indiana has passed none of the 24 recommended measures for occupational segregation that protect vulnerable demographics. The state also doesn’t require employers to justify pay differences, and has no laws against using salary history in hiring or retaliating or discriminating against employees who discuss their wages. 

4. Alabama

Alabama didn’t pass an equal pay law until 2019, which may help account for its low ranking. Men in Alabama earn $48,199 compared to $35,414 for women, creating a 73% gap. Unfortunately, Alabama still has no legal protections for occupational segregation, defenses and rebuttals (the category that requires employers to provide a reason for lesser pay, or consider an alternative), or support for legal action. 

5. West Virginia

At 74%, West Virginia just edges out Indiana and Alabama in terms of the earnings gap. In a state where men earned $47,425 compared to $35,078 for women, there are no regulations to require companies to guide and enforce pay adjustments, educate their employees, or collect employer-based data on the pay gap. The AAUW classifies West Virginia as a state with “weak equal pay protections,” so it’s easy to see why the revenue lost by female employees is in the billions. According to West Virginia University, women in the state earn $512,000 less than men over the course of their working lives. 

The stats can be alarming, but room for improvement certainly doesn’t mean changes can’t be made. Advancements in education for employees about their rights, grassroots campaigns, and speaking with your representatives about economic equality can all help raise the bar in pay and quality of life. At the end of the day, an equal society demands equal pay. 

Laura Bolt is a Los Angeles based writer and editor. A former staff editor at Details magazine, Bolt writes about culture, wellness and technology.