Louisiana has nation’s 45th-worst gender pay gap

The state has long had one of the largest pay gaps—the difference between women’s and men’s earnings—in the country.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a report released today, found Louisiana women who were full-time wage and salary workers made $659 per week, while men made $863 per week. The new findings put Louisiana’s pay gap at 45th-worst in the country. The ratio is slightly better than last year’s, but is significantly lower than the national average. The U.S. as a whole has a pay gap of 82%, the BLS says.

“Louisiana is pretty low in the rankings,” says Cheryl Abbot, regional economist with the Southwest Information Office of the BLS. “In part that reflects that part of the country we’re in. The south in general is lower-paying and lower-ranking.”

The numbers show a slightly better ratio than some other reports, including an American Association of University Women report earlier this year that found Louisiana women made 68 cents for every dollar a man made in 2015, making it second-worst in the country. Abbot says the difference in numbers is likely a result of slightly different methodology.

The new report provides an official accounting of the pay gap here at a time when leaders are trying to funnel more women and girls into STEM fields at all levels of education. It also comes after two years of failed efforts from state lawmakers, backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, to pass legislation aimed at reducing the gap.

Vivian Guillory, state president of AAUW-Louisiana, says she is encouraged by a slight uptick last year, but noted lawmakers have rejected legislation aimed at pay secrecy and equal pay for equal work.

“We will continue to try to make these issues well known because it’s affecting families,” Guillory says. “It’s equal pay for equal work. It’s not giving people something they’re not entitled to.”

It’s unclear how much of the pay gap in the new report comes from career choices versus pay discrimination or other factors, as Abbot says she did not break out that data.

“The way to help women close the pay gap is by encouraging women to get into STEM fields,” says state Sen. Sharon Hewitt Hewitt, who for decades worked for Shell as an engineer.

Hewitt now sits on LaSTEM, a panel of education and business leaders that held its first meeting this week and hopes to create a “pipeline” from kindergarten to the workforce for getting women into STEM fields.
The highest-paying fields in Louisiana are dominated by men, Hewitt says, while many of the lowest-paying fields traditionally have more women. This largely stems from the fact that the state has a sizable manufacturing industry, which has long had more men than women.

She also said there are unconscious biases from hiring managers, who naturally tend to hire people who are like themselves. The practice, along with certain workplace cultures, can make it harder for women and minorities to succeed.

But Hewitt also says women generally tend to not gravitate toward manufacturing and STEM fields, and says she doesn’t want to “overregulate” businesses by tying their hands on salary decisions. She hopes LaSTEM will help companies find women for jobs in traditionally male-dominated sectors, which will help meet a growing workforce need.

“We don’t have the people in the pipeline now to meet those demands,” she says. “We can’t just let it happen organically.”

—Sam Karlin

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