Vermonters have all kinds of ways to boost their income potential, from education to professional training. But there’s a statistical drag on future earnings that half of this state’s residents can’t escape, and advocates are still working to close the persistent pay gap between men and women.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 100 people, almost all of them women, crowded into the Cedar Creek room at the State House to honor Equal Pay Day.
“Every year, we stand up here and we tell you about the fact that women in Vermont are not making as much money as men in Vermont are making,” Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, told the group.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working full time in Vermont make about 83 percent as much as men. In just a single week in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, median wages for men were $150 higher than they were for women.
The date which has been designated as Equal Pay Day — April 4— is meant to put an even finer point on that disparity.
“This is a symbolic day that’s chosen every year to represent the fact that women have to work farther into the following year to make as much money as men made the year before,” Brown says.
The differences in annual pay can add up to bleak inequities over time.
“Women are 80 percent more likely than men to live in poverty at age 65 and over,” Pearce says. “And women between the ages of 75 to 79 are three times more likely than men to live in poverty.”
Pearce says the root cause for that disparity is the gender pay gap. A number of women’s advocates are working to rectify that divide.
Pat Moulton, the president of Vermont Technical College, says female students have finally achieved equity in enrollment in advanced placement math and science courses in high school.
“But that’s not translating into young women going into two-and four-year postsecondary enrollment,” says Moulton, the first female president of VTC in the school’s 150-year history. “We have a lot of work to do to help women access the higher wage and higher job skills that a career in (science, technology, engineering and math fields) provides.”
Jen Kimmich, co-founder and co- owner of The Alchemist, says perceptions of men as breadwinners and women as caregivers “remain deeply entrenched.”
“Studies show that when men have children, their wages go up, and when women have children, their wages go down,” Kimmich says.
Kimmich says public policy changes — like statewide paid family and medical leave, or more publicly funded child care options — would go a long way toward bridging the pay gap. But she says businesses should strive to adopt those kinds of policies themselves, along with flexible working hours for parents. And Kimmich says business owners need to make sure that women aren’t making less money than men just because they’re statistically less likely to ask for a raise.
“We need to pay attention to our company data, and make sure our employees are being compensated the same for equal work,” Kimmich says.
Tiffany Bluemle is director of Change the Story, an organization working to improve women’s economic status in Vermont. Change the Story released a report this week showing that women in Vermont are still under-represented in politics and industry. Bluemle says it takes good demographic data to spotlight problems, so that organizations like hers can then work to address them. But she says the state could do a much better job collecting that data.
“We’re not looking at gender when we’re looking at job training programs, and who we’re investing in for what industries, and whether, in fact, we’re giving women a fair shot,” Bluemle says.
The report by Change the Story found that, of the state’s 100 highest-grossing corporations, only eight are led by women.