Wyoming has taken the title of the “Equality State,” since becoming the first territorial legislature to grant women the right to vote in 1869. While this may seem like a ground-breaking achievement to be so forward thinking so early on, Wyoming’s intentions were entirely laced in self-interest, and largely considered a joke. They thought instead, that allowing women the right to vote would draw more Women to Wyoming to balance the male dominated population, rather in the interest of granting equality to women.
Today Wyoming retains the “Equality State” while remaining one of the least diverse states in the country, 42nd in race and ethnicity, and 50th in educational attainment diversity. Wyoming also ranks worst in the gender-wage gap compared to the rest of the nation, based on the Census data released in 2016, WY ranked 51st of all the states in equality of men’s and women’s wages.
In a study done by the Women’s Bureau with statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, it was determined that in 2014 women who worked full-time year-round earned on average 79 percent as much as their male counterparts, this isn’t that much higher than in 1964 one year after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 when the gender pay gap was 59 percent.
The Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center collected data for a report on The Wage Gap between Wyoming’s Men and Women in 2016 and the date found that women are paid 69 cents per every dollar paid to men, an annual wage gap of 16,274 dollars, however the wage gap cam be much larger for minority women. This number holds more meaning when considering what that money could be paying for, in their study they used the following examples: 118 more weeks of food, 12 more months of mortgage and utilities payments, 20.5 more months of rent or 6,041 additional gallons of gas.
So, with all that information, a study on gender wage gap in Wyoming was finally being pushed by lawmakers in 2017 when House Bill 209 was proposed along with bipartisan sponsorship by democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly and republican Rep. Marti Halverson, calling for a needed update to the 2003 study, “A Study of Disparity in Wages and Benefits Between Men and Women in Wyoming.” The bill ultimately passed with 41 voting for and 19 voting against.
The study was conducted by the Wyoming Department of Workforce services tasked by the Wyoming joint labor, health, and social interim and joint minerals, business, and economic development interim committee. Some of the key findings were: women who are full-time, year-round workers earn $0.68 for every dollar paid to a man, that gender way is varying depending on the cross-section of the workforce examined, the data that is sourced, and the limitations that is placed upon such data. The wage-gap varies in narrowing or widening depending on the factors such as industry, hours worked, education, tenure, having children or growing older. The study also found that gender wage gap can vary greatly in the different counties of Wyoming. The possible solutions listed included training, voluntary employer changes, and legislation.
The same representative who cosponsored the first bill, democratic House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly sponsored four new gender wage gap bills to address solutions to the gender wage gap in Wyoming. Of the four bills, only one bill proposed by Connolly only one survived the Senate Transportation Committee. The other two bills were killed, the second bill was voted down 3 to 2 was a bill establish wage equality for public employees and safeguard rules for regulating programs funded by public dollars. The third bill was killed by 6 house votes and it would have outlaw employers from banning workers to exchange their wage with each other. Both bills would have cultivated a level playing field for women in Wyoming, which continues to rank last for gender wage equality.
During a formal bill-signing on February 14th 2019, Mark Gorden OK’d the only surviving gender wage bill, House Bill 71, the bill will start taking effect on July 1st creating penalties for violating equal pay provisions such as paying women a lesser salary than their male counterparts for the same work. The bill increases the fine of the current law from up to $200 and 180 days in prison to $500 and up to six months in prison.
According to the data in by the website datausa.io the highest paying industries in Wyoming are electric and gas, and it’s assumed that the gender wage is dependent on women not being involved in these higher paying fields of work. However, 1 in 4 of the employees at Powder River the largest coal-producing region are women. It’s that women lack certain abilities to perform well in these industries, it’s that women are expected to carry so much more of the weight of responsibilities outside of their career, like pregnancy and having children.
The truth of the matter is that women don’t exist in a vacuum, society has profound influence over everyone, including one’s choice of career. Society is also equally impacted by the success of women, in an interview with Jen Simon, a serving member of the Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues who also works on issues related to the gender wage gap has stated, “ When women have more economic resources, their families do better AND their communities do better because women reinvest resources in local businesses.” She also provided some stats on this, “The R&P Report notes that closing the wage gap results in more than $153M in additional revenue and 600+ new jobs. As Wyoming works to diversify the economy, closing the wage gap is actually an important tool.
In the same interview, Simon also stated, “The gender wage gap is real and, by acknowledging that, we can take steps across sectors to address it. “She also stated an important way to combat the gender wage gap is depends upon both the responsibility of the individual and the government. That, “to ensure that the gender composition of members of the state’s appointed boards and commissions reflects Wyoming’s population. That can be done by executive order, as it has been in other places, as well as by conscious decision making by those in leadership roles. And it requires more women to step up and apply to those roles. The research shows that having more diverse boards improves outcomes. The added benefit is that a simple action like this creates a larger pool of women who are well-versed in issues facing the state who can then potentially run for office. In turn, having more women running for and elected to office changes the conversations that are taking place. The more that women are at the table as decision-makers, the more women’s experiences are represented in the decisions that are made. “
Retaining youth in our state will be impossible if we isolate half of the population. We should no longer accept the status quo of legislators voting for their own interests instead of catering to the voice of the people. Our call to action is to hold the elected officials accountable and encourage them to pass more legislature that would decrease the gender wage gap in our state.