Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Just released: The Status of Women in the States

Washington gets a B- for women's equity.

Washington gets a B- for women’s equity.

What are the best, and worst, states to live in if you’re a woman? How long do women have to wait before we close the gender wage gap? And how do these numbers vary across age, race, immigration status and occupation in the United States?

You can learn the answers to these questions, and a whole lot more, in The Status of Women in the States: 2015 the first in a series recently published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The report authors offer an in-depth analysis of women’s employment and earnings, which includes state-by-state projections on when the gender wage gap will close.

Key Findings for the United States Overall:

  • In nearly half of all states and the District of Columbia, women’s economic status has either worsened or remained unchanged in the last decade. 
  • If progress continues at the current rate, the gap between women’s and men’s wages in the United States will not close until 2058. For Washington women, that year is even later – we won’t reach gender pay equity until 2071! And for  five sorry states, women won’t see gender pay equity until the next century. Sorry, Wyoming, but you placed dead last.
  • A typical working woman loses $530,000 over her lifetime due to the wage gap. By the time a college-educated working woman turns 59, she will have lost almost $800,000. In fact, the gender wage gap is widest for women with higher levels of educational attainment. For example, a woman with a graduate degree earns less than a man with a bachelor’s degree!

The report breaks down how these numbers vary for different groups of women. For example, women over 65 have a wider pay gap than millenials. Women over 65 make just 72.5 cents for every dollar a man (in their age group) makes, compared to 85.7 cents for millenial women (age 16–34.) Notably, there is only one state in the US —New York—where young women out-earn young men, making $1.02 to men’s $1.

Women’s earnings differ markedly by race and ethnicity: “Asian/Pacific Islander women have the highest median annual earnings at $46,000, followed by white women ($40,000). Native American and Hispanic women have the lowest earnings at $31,000 and $28,000, respectively.”

Significant differences exist within race and ethnic groups, too. For example, among Asian and Pacific Islander women, Indian women’s median annual earnings are the highest at $60,879 – more than twice the median earnings of the Hmong, the lowest earning Asian and Pacific Islander group, who make $30,000 per year. Among Latina or Hispanic women, women of Argentinian descent have the highest median annual earnings ($40,804,) while women with Honduran heritage have the lowest ($22,784.)

Income varies by immigrant status as well – immigrant women make roughly $32,000 per year, which is significantly less than earnings of women born in the United States ($39,000.)

Women are over-represented (56.4% of workers) in low-wage service-related occupations like personal care aides, home health aides, nursing assistants, cooks, and food service staff – and underrepresented (28.8% of workers) in high-wage STEM occupations (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)

iwpr-cumulative lifetime earningsKey Findings for Women in Washington State:

Overall, Washington State received a B- grade from the IWPR; we rank 17 out of all 50 states. Our grade is based on the median earnings of women, the level of women’s participation in the workforce, and the gender wage gap (WA places a bit lower on the wage gap ladder: we rank 28 out of 50 states.)

  • The poverty rate for women in Washington is lower than the national average – though women of color and single moms still face disproportionate rates of poverty. Native American women in WA have the highest poverty rate at 27.1% and families headed by single women are also much more likely to be poor – 39.4% of families in this category live below the poverty line.
  • Women in Washington State are much more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree. Among all women, Asian and Pacific Islander women are most likely to hold a BA (41%), while Latina women are least likely (15.5%.)
  • Washington ranks fifth in the nation for number of state legislature seats held by women, who hold 32.7% of the 147 seats.

What Does this Mean for Policy? 

Addressing disparities in employment and income for women – across all  categories of age, race, occupation and immigration status – takes creative, effective and smart policy solutions. We need policies like paid sick days and paid family leave that recognize the “double and triple duty” that women perform at home as caregivers for kids and aging parents. We need a higher minimum wage, since women are much more likely to work low-wage jobs that offer little to no benefits. And we need stronger enforcement of existing legislation related to discrimination in the workplace and improved wage transparency like the kind called for in the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

EOI is working hard to advance these progressive policies and more to make sure women have a fair shot at building economic security for themselves and their families. You can find legislative updates about the policies above and more on the EOI blog, Washington Policy Review.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Want to learn more about the IWPR results? In the coming months, IWPR will continue to release new sections of the Status of Women in the States: 2015 report with national and state-level data on Poverty & Opportunity, Violence & Safety, Health & Well-Being, Reproductive Rights, Political Participation, and Work & Family. You can read more on their website.

By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc

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