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Gender Pay Gap Narrowest on Record

We’ve all been hearing for years about the gender gap when it comes to salaries, and how over the last couple of decades, very little progress has been made in closing that gap. Finally there’s some good news, however, according to the latest release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS). (See NY Times article). The remaining bad news: women’s pay still lags men’s in virtually every sector of the economy. However, full-time female workers made 77.5 percent of what their male counterparts did last year, according to BLS. In the previous eight years, the inequality worsened slightly, to 76 percent in 2001 from 77.1 percent in 1993.

Some of the reasons for the slight turnaround: Women have benefited from an acceleration in the economy’s shift toward the services sector during the last two years of economic weakness. Millions of women work in government and health care, two of the only sections of the economy that have added workers since 2001, while men dominate industries like manufacturing and technology that have been hit hard by layoffs and pay cuts. Additionally, a recent rise in the number of women who belong to unions, even as the total number of unionized workers continues to fall, may also be helping them receive salary increases. Closing the gender gap also has helped the stagnant economy: while men’s wages have failed to keep up with even the low rate of inflation, women’s earnings have continued to grow, giving an important lift to many families and helping sustain consumer spending.

It’s premature to conclude that based on one year’s data, that the wage gap will continue to narrow, but it’s encouraging news, nonetheless. Some additional resources on the gender gap include the National Committee on Pay Equity, which sponsors the national observance of Equal Pay Day to raise awareness about unfair pay in America (This year’s Equal Pay Day will occur on Tuesday, April 15.), and the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to broaden the public debate about strategies to achieve a prosperous and fair economy.

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