By Cara Hogan
For every dollar a man makes in New Hampshire, women are paid 78 cents.
The wage gap between genders has become a matter of national debate, with some arguing the difference is caused by individual choice and others saying it's the result of discrimination.
New Hampshire has the 24th largest pay gap in the nation, slightly above the national average of 77 cents, according to a recent study by the American Association of University Women.
Washington, D.C., has the lowest wage gap, with women making 91 cents to every $1 for men. Vermont is second, at 84 cents and Massachusetts is ninth at 81 cents.
"These are numbers from the census," senior AAUW researcher Christianne Corbett said. "We look at the wage gap overall throughout the country for all full-time workers. It's interesting to compare New Hampshire to Vermont. The gap is largest in New Hampshire, but women earn more, just over $40,000 a year. Women in Vermont earn just under $36,000 a year."
That's an improvement since 1980, when the national average was 60.2 cents for every $1, but still too big of a gap for most women, who represent just over half the country's population.
Women represent 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force, according to the federal Department of Labor.
The high wage gap in the state is disappointing, said Kimberlie Randlett, president of the Business and Professional Women of New Hampshire, which works to lessen the wage gap.
"I think we've gained a penny from the past year, getting up to 78 cents," she said. "But it's a little disconcerting we are that far below our New England counterparts."
The wage gap increases in states where there is more private industry, like New Hampshire, Corbett said.
"We know the pay gap tends to be lower in the government sector, which is why D.C. is first," she said. "That has to do with the transparency of salaries in the government compared to the private sector. Transparency is good for the wage gap. The wage gap also tends to be smaller when there are a lot of unions and membership is high."
Different people, different theories
The difference in salary exists at every level of education, Corbett said.
"It doesn't go away even though more women than ever are earning college degrees," she said. "They still have a pay gap compared to men with college degrees. The same goes for master's and doctorate degrees."
But the difference in men's and women's wages could be explained by the decisions women make, according to Bruce De May, director of the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.
"A factor could be seniority and longevity," he said. "Females tend to exit the labor market for raising a family, for example, and then coming back into the labor market at a later time. They wouldn't be earning the same as a male counterpart."
He said many of these variables are a matter of individual choice.
"Depending on what occupational field someone is in, male versus female, the wages could be different," he said. "Young people of either gender are encouraged to consider occupations in the science or math areas, which are in demand and earn more. There are opportunities for individuals to enter occupations which are considered nontraditional for their gender."
The wage gap became a hot political issue after President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.
The issue hasn't come up in Concord recently, but New Hampshire GOP spokesman Tory Mazzola stirred things up a few weeks ago when he said federal legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Act is a "handout to trial lawyers" because it allows women to sue their employers "unnecessarily."
New Hampshire Democratic Party spokeswoman Pamela Walsh said she didn't think the wage gap is a priority for the current state Legislature.
"I think a lot of what they're doing is making it harder for women in the workplace and for women to be treated equally," she said. "New Hampshire does have an Equal Pay Act and, at this point, our Legislature hasn't tried to repeal it. I'm hoping they won't get any ideas."
Walsh said the only way to improve the wage gap is through federal or state laws.
"It's not about special treatment, it's about fair treatment," she said.
Women can work to improve the gap on an individual level. Randlett said her organization works with women to give them the skills to negotiate for a fair salary.
"We try to give women the skills to ask for what they're worth," she said. "You can go online and check out jobs and what the salary range is. Young women need to know what the salary range is for a job they're going for, so they go into an interview better prepared. Instead of saying, 'Great,' when they offer you a job at $34,000, you know the job is actually worth $42,000."
Men often expect a higher salary — and ask for it, Randlett said.
"We need to ask for more, because we're worth it," she said.
Randlett has been running her own kitchen and bathroom design business for the past four years, but said it took her a long time to get to that point.
"I started off later in life, but our younger generation is smarter," she said. "We want to go after the girls getting out of college and going into the workforce. The more information and the more confidence they have, the less this is going to be a problem in the future."
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