Nebraska recently changed its tourism brand from the stalwart of “Nebraska … the good life” to “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” However, the wage gap for women in this state is neither nice nor contributing to “the good life” for women and their loved ones in this state.
In all but three of Nebraska’s 93 counties, the percentage of women between ages 25 to 54 who work is well above the United States’ national average, according to an American Community Survey featured recently in an article in The New York Times by Gregor Aisch, Josh Katz and David Leonhardt. This is positive information, particularly when you take into account that places with low levels of female employment have a lot of overlap with high-poverty geographical areas of the United States.
I was initially encouraged by these numbers. It’s definitely a good thing to have high employment in our state. It’s no secret that Nebraskans can appreciate hard work. That must be part of what they are talking about when they said “the good life.”
However, this encouragement waned considerably when I also noted that a study from the National Women’s Law Center using 2013 data found that Nebraska (again, among the states with the highest percentages of working women in the entire nation) is also ranked as number 44 out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for wage gaps between median male and female earnings. Forty-four. That puts our great state in the top ten worst states for this disparity. The data showed that full-time, year-round working women in Nebraska are paid, on average, 74.1 cents per every male-earned dollar. This is compared to the national average of 78.3 cents and the No. 1 spot, Washington, D.C., at 91.3 cents.
Nebraska is saturated with hard-working women, so why do women’s wages appear to not reflect this? Why are Nebraska’s working women earning nearly $1,000 less per month than Nebraska’s working men? Why do Nebraska’s working women have to work more than 16 months to earn what Nebraska’s working men earn in 12 months? It doesn’t seem fair that states with fewer women out working for a living actually rank higher.
To be clear, these numbers do not necessarily show that women in Nebraska are systematically paid less for the same work as men (although this is certainly a nationwide issue). This is not the situation the Equal Pay Act (EPA) was necessarily designed to address. The EPA prohibits wage discrimination “between employees on the basis of sex … for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. §206(d)(1). The numbers in this study are based on median earnings for full-time year-round workers, regardless of occupation.
Even so, again, the percentage of female workers in Nebraska is well above the national average. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in America make up nearly half the workforce. In 4 out of 10 families, they are the equal, if not main, earner. They are now more educated than men, earning more college and graduate degrees. The many reasons we may present to explain why women earn less apply in every state, not just Nebraska. Yet, here we are, living “the good life” at number 44. And that reality isn’t very “nice” in Nebraska or anywhere else.