It's Time to Close the Gender Pay Gap in West Virginia

West Virginia women face one of the largest gender pay gaps in the nation and highest among surrounding states, according to a West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report released this week. 

Climbing the Mountain: Closing the Gender Pay Gap in West Virginia shows in 2017, women working full-time, year round in West Virginia were paid 74 cents for every dollar paid to men, a 26 percent pay gap. West Virginia has the third highest pay gap in the nation following Utah and Louisiana. A woman working full-time, year-round in the United States in 2017 made only 81 cents to every dollar a man made.

While strides have been made over the last several decades as more woman have obtained college degrees and found employment in managerial or professional occupations, left unattended, the gender pay will persist unless its causes are addressed. 

The gender pay-gap exists in every state, at every educational attainment level and continues to impact women and their families after they leave the workforce. 

With the earnings that a woman lost in 2017 in West Virginia, she could have paid for an extra year of child care, nearly two years of food for her and her family, two years of tuition at an in-state community college or paid a year and a half of tuition at a public four-year, in-state college or university. Because of lower lifetime earnings, the average Social Security benefit for women 65 and older is around $14,044 per year compared with $18,173 for men at the same age. 

The gap itself varies throughout the country as well as within the Mountain State, from no pay gap in Doddridge County to a gap of 50 percent in Braxton County. 

When all people are included, regardless of worker status, the gap is even wider in West Virginia at 43 percent. Race exacerbates the pay gap with Black women only earning 63 cents to every dollar a man makes and Latinas make just 60 cents. 

In 2017, the gender pay gap resulted in $13.7 billion in lost earnings for women in West Virginia. 

Many factors contribute to the gender pay gap; some explained, some not. The two main reasons for the pay gap are what industries and jobs within those industries women and men traditionally find themselves in. Extractive and industrial industries and STEM-based industries like engineering have far more men than women employed and much higher wages. Conversely, women are far more likely than men to be employed in education or arts and the humanities that traditionally pay lower wages.

The good news is there are options to close the gender pay gap if West Virginia policymakers enact policies that support and invest in women and their families.
Policies to help close the gender pay gap include: 
  • raising the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour and eliminating the two-tiered tipped wage system to give all West Virginia workers a chance at financial security
  • enacting fair scheduling practices and paid sick days to help balance the demands of work and life to increase the state's workforce participation
  • increasing affordability for higher education by breaking with recent state budget trends of divestment from public higher education and fully funding the PROMISE scholarship
  • expanding affordable, accessible child care to allow more parents to enter and stay in the workforce 
  • creating a refundable state-level Earned Income Tax Credit to give working families a boost 
  • promoting women's work in male-dominated occupations that tend to pay higher wages 
  • passing equal pay and nondiscrimination policies with teeth


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