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Could the wage gap be shrinking?

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 business commentator

Dallas, TX – Is it possible? Could it really be happening? The wage gap between men and women is getting smaller. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Midday.

Don't get your macho feathers all ruffled, men. Last year, females, working full-time, still only made 77.5% of what their male counterparts did. On the other hand, get 'em all ruffled because 2002 was the narrowest on record. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the previous eight years, women's wages lost ground against men's. The wage gap was actually tighter in 1993 at 77.1% than it was it 2001's, widening to 76%. So the 1.5% increase in 2002 is quite significant, especially taking into account the weak employment landscape.

The New York Times article points out that the average full-time female worker received a 5% raise in her weekly pay last year. The average pay for men rose only 1.3%. The Times reminds us, the inflation rate was about 2%. And the average pay for men is just about $700 a week.

So how were these gains made in 2002, a year when everyone knew someone that was laid off and raises were far and few between? Thank the growing service industries. While other predominately male sectors like manufacturing and technology were laying off, health care and the government actually added workers. For every three women working in the government, there are two men.

Economists are also crediting the number of women joining unions. Though on the whole, union membership has seen a decrease, the number of women joining is on an upswing. According to the Labor Department, unionized workers earn an average of 23% more a week than other workers.

So can the momentum continue? Quoting one optimistic economist from the article, "It's just going to take a while." For KERA Marketplace Midday, I'm Maxine Shapiro.


Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 p.m. To contact Maxine Shapiro, please send emails to