The Last Best Place to Work

By Beacon Staff

For the past several months, Barb Wagner, a senior economist with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, has been examining the gender pay gap in Montana. For women, the results of the study are worrisome: The median wage for a Montana woman is the least of any state in the nation and about $12,000 less than the median for their male counterpart. That’s not to say the numbers for men are good – they’re not impressive either.

The Helena Independent Record reported this weekend on Wagner’s study:

Whether such acts are intentional or not, discrimination continues to pervade the workplace in Montana and beyond, putting women at an economic disadvantage later in life.

According to a new U.S. Census Bureau report, Montana women who work full time fell to dead last in the nation in 2007 when it came to their median annual earnings of $26,598.

In comparison, Montana men ranked 47th, earning $38,230, or about $12,000 more than Montana women.

On average, Montana women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. It’s a gap Wagner says has been closing slowly since the early 1980s, when women earned just 63 cents to every dollar earned by men.

“The wage gap used to be a lot bigger than it is, and the unexplained portion used to be a lot bigger than it is,” said Wagner. “But even when you account for changes in experience and education, and after you account for other differences, there’s still 20 percent that’s unaccounted for, and a lot of people refer to that as the ‘discrimination factor.’ ”

The story, of course, raises questions about why, 45 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women in this state and others are still making less, even in comparable positions. According to the Montana report, it will take women another 50 years to gain wage equality at the current rate.

Perhaps, what is just as interesting to me though, is how low the wages are for both sexes in Montana. With a 47th-place ranking, Montana men certainly aren’t “making bank” as my cooler and more hip younger siblings would say, and being dead last for women is downright embarrassing.

Growing up in Montana, I often heard adults opine about what a shame it was to see so many of the state’s youth leave. The state helps put them through college with in-state tuition only to watch them to move as quickly as they graduate. Well, the numbers speak quite plainly, I think, for the choice I and other young adults face when we enter the workforce: Stay in Montana and struggle to pay your bills, or go somewhere else and earn a competitive wage.