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April 8, 2013

Pay gap narrow, not gone, in Oneonta

City near top in report on men's, women's earnings

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta is No. 13 in a ranking of cities with the lowest pay gap between men and women, according to a study by an online company.

The ranking is good news to be taken with a grain of salt, a labor analyst said last week. But a local personnel manager expressed delight over the finding, which was based on census figures and released in time for “Equal Pay Day’’ on Tuesday.

For Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, NerdWallet, an online business, compiled lists of cities with the lowest gender pay gaps and of occupations with the largest and smallest gender pay gap. 

“We’ve been working at Hartwick to close that gap,’’ Suzanne Janitz, director of human resources at the Oneonta college said. The college has been taking steps for about four years to improve salaries, supported by the board of trustee’s 2011 approval to raise all salaries to the median salary of similar private four-year colleges, she said. 

Hartwick will continue such efforts, she said, because gender pay gaps result in poor morale, employee departure and discrimination. 

“We want equity,’’ Janitz said. 

Of the college’s staff of about 415, including 112 faculty, a few more than half are women, she said, and seeing Hartwick’s work reflected in the No. 13 ranking is “delightful.’’

The city’s position in the top 25 in a ranking of the 943 cities with the smallest gender pay gap is based on median earnings of full-time year-round workers at $37,429 for men and $33,505 for women, NerdWallet said. Based on those figures, a woman’s pay is 89.5 percent of a man’s earnings in the same occupation in Oneonta.

Tuesday is designated as “Equal Pay Day.’’ The date, April 9, symbolizes how long into 2013 women must work to earn the same amount men earned in 2012, the National Committee on Pay Equity website said. The NCPE, a coalition founded in 1979 of women’s and civil rights organizations, originated Equal Pay Day in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. 

NCPE’s purpose is to close the wage gap between women, as well as people of color, and men. In 1963, when the federal Equal Pay Act was signed, women made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men, based on based on census data of median wages of full-time, year-round workers. By 2009, women earned 77 cents to men’s dollar, a narrowing of the wage gap by less than half a cent a year, the NCPE website said. 

The disparity costs the average American woman and her family an estimated $700,000 to $2 million, impacting Social Security benefits and pensions, the site said.

Christian Harris, a regional labor market analyst with the state Department of Labor in Binghamton, said the No. 13 ranking for Oneonta is positive news because it reflects better-paid positions with upward mobility. But Harris said he reviewed some of the apparent factors behind the NerdWallet study that made him a bit cautious about the population characteristics. 

“We’ve got to take that with a grain of salt,’’ Harris said. 

The NerdWallet study appears to reflect about 2,740 workers in the city of Oneonta in the fields of education, health care and social services who are employed full-time, year-round, he said, with about 60 percent of the group comprised of women.

About 12,300 people are employed in the town and city of Oneonta, he said, and seasonal workers, among other groups, weren’t represented in the study. 

Elizabeth Seale, assistant professor of sociology at the State University College at Oneonta, said she considered various sociological research findings about the wage gap to shed light onto Oneonta’s No. 13 ranking. 

“Most likely it is a product of higher rates of unionization, but lower overall wages than many other cities in the Northeast,’’ Seale wrote in an email. “That is important because the less everyone is paid, the more limited are possible gaps.’’

Seale pointed out that in places with larger gender gaps, there are higher salaries earned overall. 

“I suspect we have higher rates of unionization than many cities in the study, particularly those that tend to pay lower wages, and rates of unionization have been shown to decrease the wage gap,’’ Seale wrote. “This positive ranking may be an interaction between having unions that enforce a minimum wage-rate, thereby contributing to equity, and being a place where — unions notwithstanding — employers pay lower wages.’’ 

Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta are among largest local employers. Hartwick employees aren’t represented by a union, while several unions represent staff at SUNY Oneonta. The local school district and police department also are unionized. 

Another or additional explanation to the No. 13 ranking, Seale said, could be related to industries and sex segregation. A lower wage gap exists in cities with less labor segregation between men and women, she said. 

“It could be that Oneonta has lower segregation in the sense that there aren’t a lot of workplaces where men or women are in a huge majority,’’ Seale said. “That would contribute to pay equity.’’

NerdWallet is an online personal finance business founded in 2009. The firm reported using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey to compare 943 cities.

Cities with the smallest gender pay gaps were Wachula, Clewiston and Arcadia, all in Florida, with a woman’s earnings 95 percent to 106 percent of a man’s earnings.

Cities with the largest gender pay gap were Vernal, Utah; Andrews, Texas; and Pierre Part, La. Each has about a 50 percent disparity between men’s and women’s earnings.

Evidence abounds that women earn less in almost every occupation, according to NerdWallet. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in four of 111 occupations women’s weekly median earnings were higher than men’s pay; for the same occupation, women earn less than their male counterparts, and the gap exists between high-wage and low-wage earners alike.

NerdWallet reported best and worst occupations in respect to the gender pay gap using the 2011 “Highlights of Women’s Pay’’ and the “Occupational Outlook Handbook’’ from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

According to NerdWallet, the 10 best occupations for fair pay are respiratory therapist, computer support specialists, operations research analysts, stock clerks and order filers, medical scientists, clerks for bookkeeping, accounting and auditing, packers and packagers, receptionists, information clerks and police and sheriff’s patrol officers.

For men and women, the 10 best jobs for equity pay had a lower average salary of $43,293, NerdWallet said, while the 10 worst jobs had an average salary of $71,976. 

The worst 10 were postsecondary education administrators, chief executives, sales agents of securities, commodities and financial services, real estate brokers and sales agents, sales managers, financial managers, insurance sales agents, loan officers, personal finance advisers, and property, real estate and community service managers.