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By Janel Davis October 1, 2012

Is there a gender wage gap in every state?

Women: You’ve come a long way, but still have a ways to go, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

The NWLC revisited the gender wage gap debate last month, citing recently released federal statistics showing the difference between the earnings of men and women in the United States. Using the data, the organization devised a state-by-state ranking of women’s median earnings compared with men’s.

"In every state, women are paid less than men," the NWLC said in a Sept. 21 news release about its analysis. The liberal-leaning advocacy organization for women’s issues also cited the national gender wage gap showing that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.

The organization’s leaders are using the analysis to push Congress to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act to address the disparity. That legislation -- sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and supported by the Obama administration -- is intended to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963: proposed guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs with a goal of eliminating inequities. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in January 2009 but failed twice in the Senate, in November 2010 and in June 2012.

The gender wage gap issue has been studied for years and has been targeted through legislation including the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Still, the NWLC statement about all 50 states seemed broad. Was there the possibility that in at least one state the wage gap either didn’t exist or favored women? And what factors were considered to determine the gap?

The two most common sources for this type of gender wage data are the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. NWLC used data from the Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, released last month, to calculate wage gaps in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Using the Community Survey’s statistics, the NWLC calculated the wage gap for each state as the ratio of female and male median earnings for full-time, year-round workers. (The Community Survey classified full-time, year-round workers as those being 16 years old and over and who usually worked 35 hours or more per week.) The wage gaps are presented as the number of cents women are paid for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Using this methodology, the organization’s statement is accurate.

For example, Georgia ranked 13th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in order of the highest wage gaps by jurisdiction. In Georgia, the wage gap was 80.7 percent, meaning that for every dollar a man earned, women earned just under 81 cents. Georgia males earned $43,902 and women earned $35,438 annually, a difference of $8,464.

In that ranking, Washington, D.C., fared the best, with women making about 90 cents for every dollar men make. In Wyoming, where the wage gap was the largest, women earned 66.6 cents for each dollar earned by men.

The NWLC analysis also includes the often-used statistic that the national gender wage gap is 77 percent, or more clearly: For every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 77 cents. The national wage gap calculated by the organization is based on census data that  tracks full-time, year-round worker wages regardless of occupation.

PolitiFact has examined wage disparity claims with varying outcomes. Supporters of wage gap legislation typically cite the 77-cent figure without clarifying that the gap does not take into account other factors that could influence the figure, including occupation, employment longevity and education. The census data shows the widest gap, but other data, including hourly wages tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, yields smaller differences. Using BLS data, women are paid 86 percent of the median hourly wages of men.

So, does the NWLC’s claim hold up? Based on Census Bureau data, it does appear that women are paid less than men in every state and Washington, D.C. In considering other data and influences, the wage disparity amount, specifically the national wage gap, is smaller, but still exists.  

We rate it True. 

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Our Sources

Press release and state-by-state rankings, National Women’s Law Center, Sept. 21, 2012

U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011," September 2012

U.S.Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey Data, "Median earnings for male, female, year-round workers (in 2011 inflation-adjusted dollars) - United States -- States; and Puerto Rico," Sept. 20, 2012

PolitiFact, "Women ‘receive only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns,’" Katie Sanders, Sept. 5, 2012

PolitiFact, "Women (are) paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men," Louis Jacobson, June 21, 2012

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Women in the Labor Force: A Databook," December 2011

"Myth Busting the Pay Gap," (Work in Progress) The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Labor, June 7, 2012

National Committee on Pay Equity, current legislation: the Paycheck Fairness Act

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