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Study: In Seattle, Women Paid More in Lower-Paying Jobs


Women who work for the city of Seattle earn more money than men in some jobs. The reverse is true for other jobs. The problem is the classes of jobs in which women earn more are lower-paying than the ones in which men earn more, according toa new study conducted by the city's own Personnel Department. 

The study compared the wages of workers by gender in 871 job classes. While there was some inequity between women and men within the same job classes, the larger disparity involved men earning more in higher-paying jobs, according to the report first reported by The Stranger.

"In the cases where women on average exceed men in earnings, the overall departmental wages are generally lower. An example of this is Seattle Parks Department where women on average earn $28.56 per hour and men earn on average  $27.62 per hour—a difference of $0.94 per hour, or 3 percent," the study found. "In departments where men out earn their female counterparts on average the overall departmental wages are higher. An example of this is Seattle City Light where women on average earn $36.56 per hour and men earn $41.13 per hour, a difference of $4.57 per hour or 11 percent."

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn ordered the study after the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) ranked Seattle's gender wage gap as the widest out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas around the U.S. NPWF's study found women in the Seattle metro area get 73 cents to every dollar men earn—lower than the national average of 77 cents.

The city's study found women employed by the city of Seattle earn, on average, 9.5 percent less than men. Women make up 36.4 percent of the city workforce.

In response to the report’s findings, McGinn on Tuesday announced plans for a Gender Justice Initiative led by the Gender Equity in Pay Task Force, which will analyze the city's data further to determine what could've led to the wage discrepancies. 

"The processes that produce this are job assignment," said Barbara Reskin, University of Washington professor emeritus of sociology and a member of the task force. "You apply for a job, who gets hired for what? What kinds of mechanisms or processes might sort people into one sort of job or another?"

McGinn's goals for the task force include increasing the number of women employed by the city, increasing the city's contracting with women's business enterprises, and developing proposals that address implicit bias and institutional sexism.

While the gender wage gap persists despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, more women are becoming the primary source of income in their families; according to the Pew Research Center, today four out of every 10 women in households with children under the age of 18 are the sole or primary source of income. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2012 that 141,949 households in Seattle are headed by women. Twenty-three percent of those households have incomes that are below the poverty level.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.