West Virginia women rank last for salary, employment

TYE WARD | Gazette graphic

West Virginia women make less money than most other women in the country, according to a report released Thursday.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranked West Virginia last in the United States when it comes to women’s employment and earnings, based on factors including annual income, the male-female wage gap, the number of women in the workforce and the number of women in managerial and professional occupations.

The median annual income for full-time female workers is $30,000 in West Virginia, and women in the state make about 66 cents for every dollar that a man earns, according to the report.

Fewer than half of women in West Virginia are employed outside the home, while fewer than 40 percent of women who are employed are in a managerial or professional occupation.

West Virginia and Alabama were the only states to receive F grades in the report. The District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Connecticut were ranked the highest in the nation.

While West Virginia is continuously labeled as among the lowest for median household income and employment, regardless of gender, West Virginia women still have extra hurdles to jump, said Tara Martinez, executive director of the West Virginia Women’s Commission.

Women in West Virginia are making less now than they were in 2010 — when women were making 69 percent of what a man makes, as compared to 66 percent today, according to the report.

“We’re actually moving backward,” Martinez said. “The discouragement and the hopelessness that I see as part of my job, I take it home with me. Sometimes you look at where women are, especially in this state that we all love so much, and you say, ‘OK, what hope do I give them?’ The hope that I try to convey is that their voice is the only way to make the change that they need to make their lives better in this state.”

The West Virginia Women’s Commission has been working for years with the state Legislature to increase women’s pay, Martinez said, and there have been a few “rays of hope.” For example, revenue for female-owned businesses in the state has significantly increased.

“What we’ve found in recent years is, we think we’ve got a good handle on men and women in the same job earning the same amount of money, but what we’re finding is women aren’t going into the higher-paying jobs, and we’re wondering if we’re not doing a great job — on many levels — of introducing women to higher-paying jobs,” Martinez said.

Women’s issues have been propped up in West Virginia recently, with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., taking up concerns about women’s pay while vying for a spot in the U.S. Senate. Tennant has accused Capito of repeatedly voting against equal-pay measures. Martinez hopes the new attention to the state’s women continues long after election day.

“Women’s issues have definitely been brought to light recently in this state, but it’s very important that those things aren’t just a sound bite,” Martinez said. “I hope that candidates realize that, once they get hired into the job, that women — 51 percent of the state’s population — will hold them accountable.”

Delegate Linda Goode Phillips, D-Wyoming County, is a member of the Equal Pay Commission for the West Virginia Legislature, and said women in West Virginia face specific problems that those in other states aren’t as burdened with, which makes it a harder battle.

“There’s such a discrepancy — even with entry-level jobs. I know we’re working on that glass ceiling, I know that. But, still, a lot of times in West Virginia, the woman is a single mom and is the only breadwinner in that family,” Phillips said. “It’s a major issue for us.”

The West Virginia Women’s Commission will host a webinar that is open to the public next month during legislative interims that will focus on equal pay.

For more information, visit www.iwpr.org.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.

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