How could the pandemic affect the gender wage gap? Experts weigh in


FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When it comes to overall women’s pay Indiana is on the low end compared to other states. Will the pandemic make it worse?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019 Hoosier women, 73.6 cents on the dollar compared to men. That pre-pandemic number is down slightly from an upward trend Indiana has been on.

“Since 1997 when the data collection for the states began Indiana’s women’s to men’s earnings ratio has ranged from a low of 65.9% in 1997 to a high of 84.7% in 2016,” said Katherine Males, an economist with the Bureau for Labor Statistics. “Women’s earnings have been edging up in comparison to men’s since 1997 in the state of Indiana.”

The bureau finds the comparison by taking the average income of men and women from a sample of 60,0000 workers and compares them. On the 2019 survey, Indiana was near the bottom of the list compared to other states, but according to Males, the data should not be compared state-to-state. The reason being that there are too many variables not factored in.

“The decline could have been anything from changes in job responsibilities work experience specialization, it could be aging out of a demographic,” Males said.

Numbers have not yet been released for 2020, but the pandemic is expected to play a role in any wage data that comes out. In part, because of high unemployment throughout.

“At the beginning of the pandemic when we were looking at record unemployment we were seeing a few industries that were particularly hard hit, manufacturing, then we also had food and hotel so restaurants and hotels were hit, significantly as with some retail,” Blakeman said. “There’s been a lot of talk about this being what they’re calling a ‘She Session,’ affecting women more than men.”

While Northeast Indiana tends to be lower in wages than the rest of the state, Rachel Blakeman, Director for Purdue Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute, said the pandemic may have helped.

“Actually for many women because that, that supplemental unemployment, probably brought their income up because it was to average the national average for wages,” said Blakeman. “Fort Wayne Allen County of northeast Indiana have wages that are typically below average.”

Although that may be the case nationally, Northeast Indiana men took the higher hit to their wages.

“Interestingly here in northeast Indiana men were more effective at first, because of that input that reliance that we have here on manufacturing.”

As for what could happen post-pandemic, Blakeman said the gender gap could actually widen going forward as some people were sent home from work and others chose to stay home as their children were dealing with e-learning education.

“It may have been a decision that somebody needed to stay home and help their child get online every day,” said Blakeman. “There may have been some women who decided to leave the workforce temporarily.”

Some of those women may choose to return to work part-time or not at all, especially if they found working part-time or less was more cost-effective for their family. There will also be some men and women who chose to go into retirement during the pandemic.

Another factor is that the pandemic may inspire women to look for jobs in higher-paying industries, like the healthcare field.

Blakeman said the pandemic has brought the discussion of a gender wage gap back into the spotlight as the pandemic highlighted some of the issues, but that finding a solution going forward is more complicated. The availability and cost of childcare tend to be major factors, however, Blakeman said that getting more women to look for careers in manufacturing would make a huge difference.

“We know that manufacturing in northeast Indiana pays more than most jobs,” said Blakeman. “How can we get women into manufacturing, because that just by the very nature of the work tends to pay more per hour? So it can be sometimes career choices but women are making and helping them identify what are some higher-income jobs so do we want to see women in the skilled trades, do we want to have women on construction sites.”

One of the first things to watch, according to Blakeman, is how ready employers are to take on employees who have been out of work for the past year.

“Let’s hope that employers will not penalize workers who have not been working for the past year,” said Blakeman. “When they’re ready to say, you know, what I’m ready to come back to work, but they’re not saying, well, why didn’t you work for the past year. Well, because did you live through the pandemic with me? Do you remember why we did these things? So let’s hope that then employers are ready to re-engage workers who want to be there.”

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