Let's Talk Human Rights Blog: Iowa Women and the Economy

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In this month's "Let's Talk Human Rights" blog:

Iowa Women and the Economy

I have been a Commissioner on the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW) since 2006. Since I was appointed in 2006, we have discussed many issues that affect women – such as the gender pay gap and the overall economic state of women in Iowa. I thought it appropriate to present some facts concerning the gender pay gap with the hope that this will launch future discussion on the these issues.  

In a 2016 report from Iowa Workforce Development, the median income for Iowa women was $39,427 and for men $50,679, which equals an overall gap in the median wages between men and women of 77%. When it comes to the gender pay gap, Iowa's ranking in the U.S. is 41st. We are also lowest among our neighboring states (Minnesota = 12th, Illinois = 28th, Missouri = 30th, Wisconsin = 33rd & Nebraska = 36th).

Women of color in Iowa fare much worse than the average with African American women being paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Latinas are paid 57 cents and Asian women are paid 69 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

Further, this gap is persistent across all types of occupations. For example, female doctors tend to earn less than male doctors and even at the executive level women earn around $113,400 on average, compared to $135,500 for men or an 83.7% gap. I believe that this gap, along with better employment opportunities in neighboring states may have contributed to the loss of young professionals in Iowa.

One way to begin to affect change could be to raise the minimum wage. In April there was an article in the Arizona Republic talking about the changes Arizona made in the minimum wage. I bring this up because Arizona and Iowa are somewhat similar. The two states are both Right-to-Work States, fairly conservative and fairly close overall in median pay – for example, Arizona's median pay for women is $36,916 and for men $43,945. The gender pay gap in Arizona is 82%, ranking them 19th in the U.S. In Arizona, African American women are paid 67 cents per every dollar men earn, Latinas earn 54 cents and Asian women earn 81 cents. The biggest difference between the two states is that Arizona raised the minimum wages from $8.05 an hour to $10.00 at the start of 2017, and then to $10.50 in early 2018. In addition, a law that requires larger employers in Arizona to provide at least five paid sick days annually took effect last July. In theory, and as I have seen argued in Iowa during minimum wage debates, this should have resulted in reduced hiring, but Arizona's unemployment rate has dropped from 5.2% to 4.9% (4.1% in metro Phoenix) and more importantly, personal income in Arizona rose 4.3% last year, making it the fifth highest increase in the nation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It is my hope that we can have this discussion again in Iowa. Our educational institutions graduate many qualified women and men each year. We need to narrow the gaps in the playing field and keep our best and brightest here in Iowa.

Note: Tom Carnahan is a commissioner on the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW); however, this article is his own opinion, and may not represent the opinions of the State of Iowa or of the ICSW.

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