by Michael Sarko
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Seattle’s is one of the largest economies on the West Coast and is enjoying a recent thaw from the recession. Overall fiscal performance, however, belies many social components of money and employment in this city. At the same time that a senior adviser to the Washington State Treasurer’s Office ranked our state dead last in tax equality in the nation, a local investigation found that Seattle’s government employees experience the most extreme gender pay gap among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.
The National Partnership for Women and Families, a non-partisan non-profit organization advocating for women’s rights since 1971, is the source of the gender pay gap report. The report, which came out in April of this year, claims that women in the United States bring home an average of $11,084 less than men who perform the same jobs, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the Seattle metropolitan area, the gap is far wider. While the average income for men with full-time jobs in the area is $60,881, women in the same position only take home an average of $44,535. That amounts to 73 cents to every dollar made by a man.
Mayor McGinn responded to these and other figures provided by the NPWF’s report by convening a Gender Equity in Pay Task Force. Leading the task force is Julie Nelson, Director of Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, and Patricia Hayden, Director of Specialized and Integrated Services at the YWCA. The purpose of the Gender Equity in Pay Task Force is to analyze the prevalence of pay gaps within Seattle’s government and develop programs to address any pay discrepancies that are found.
The task force has already met twice this year, first in September and again last week. Other members of the task force include individuals from universities in the Seattle area, social advocates for women and transgender people, and Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden. Task force meetings also include guest speakers from various organizations around the community.
The task force has been quick to brainstorm legislation and policy changes consistent with the gender pay equity mission. Councilmember Godden has already suggested tying incentives for child care services to zoning permits, offering developers expanded floor space in exchange for dedicated child care on-site. Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a Washington State policy organization, opined that the city should give extra consideration to government contract bids by organizations that practice equal pay and employment of women. There was also some concern in preliminary meetings from Barbara Reskin, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, about gender divisions at city-run businesses like the Seattle Center and Seattle City Light. At those organizations, all-male and all-female job categories are common, as are differences in both the authority and pay tied to those positions.
In these early stages, the Gender Equity in Pay Task Force has called for a number of studies to be included in the 2014 Seattle City Budget. They believe that there is valuable data in the analysis of hiring and compensation practices in places like the Seattle Police Department that are predominantly male in staff makeup. There are also a wide range of local labor union wage policies that escaped examination in a 2007 study that Guadalupe Perez of Local 17: Professional and Technical Employees wishes to see revised. Those specific policies address factors like gender and race.
Preliminary reports from the task force suggest that closing gender gaps in Seattle’s government employment will require changing both who the city hires and how it compensates them. Only a third of all City employees are women, and a significant majority of those hired into higher-paying positions are men. The only place where women earn more than men in the City is in departments where wages tend to be lower, such as in Parks and Recreation. At this point, the task force recommends that the City consults with experts and generates data-driven reports to identify the roots of these pay and hiring inequities before taking action to remedy them.
As Seattle attempts to balance its economic issues along gender lines, all attempts to enact change at the national level continue to struggle. Groups like the NPWF advocate for a piece of legislation known as the Paycheck Fairness Act. The act, first introduced in 2009, would give the federal government greater power to investigate pay inequity and enforce laws attached to the sweeping reforms of the 1963 Equal Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act passed in the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives in its earliest incarnation, but stalled in the Senate. Similarly, the bill’s 2011 reintroduction never went to a vote because of a filibuster by its opponents in the Republican Party. It is still possible for the Paycheck Fairness Act to reach Congress once more.