Report ranks La. second worst in gender pay gap

Women continue to earn less than their male co-workers, with Louisiana posting the nation’s second-worst gender wage gap — at 33 percent on average — in a report released Tuesday.

The nonprofit National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington, D.C., said the wage gap for women is 23 percent on average nationally.

“Unfair wages cause real and lasting harm to women, the families they support and to our economy,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the NPWF.

“With women making up nearly half the workforce and serving as essential breadwinners in two-thirds of households, it’s time to finally put ‘Mad Men’-era wage policies in the past.”

If that gap were eliminated in Louisiana, the group reported, that action would greatly benefit the 39 percent of households headed by women living below the poverty level.

On average, the NPWF reported, the 33 percent gender gap costs a woman with a full-time job in Louisiana $15,663 in annual wages.

That gap is even more pronounced for black women who are full-time workers. The group said they earn 51 percent less than white male workers in comparable jobs.

That caught the attention of Alfreda T. Bester, general counsel for the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP.

“The NAACP’s position on this is that women should be paid equally for equal work,” Bester said. “Absolutely.”

Bester said people elected to public office have an obligation to combat such inequality.

“I just think it’s a shame for people who represent all the people of this state to seem to look out only for employers,” Bester said. “Women who do the same work as men … they should be compensated equally.

“It’s atrocious. We can do better. We have to do better.”

Through spokeswoman Lauren Hatcher, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber declined to comment on the issues raised by the report.

Continued business expansion eventually will cure wage gaps, according to Stephen Moret, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.

“The best way to provide for equal pay is to continue attracting more good jobs,” Moret said. “We’ve done this by cultivating a climate where businesses want to invest, and as a result, we’ve been able to secure projects that are creating more than 80,000 new, permanent jobs.

“We are providing the high-quality training and education our people need to pursue better job opportunities. We won’t stop working until the governors of Texas and Georgia are calling us to complain that too many of their sons and daughters are leaving their states to come to Louisiana.”

Census data and an American Express analysis, Moret noted, show since early 2008, “The number of women-owned businesses in Louisiana has experienced the fastest growth in the South, and second-fastest in the U.S. overall.”

Only Wyoming had a bigger wage gender gap — 36 percent — than Louisiana.

The smallest gender gap was 10 percent recorded for the District of Columbia.

Three states tied for second place, 15 percent. They were Maryland, Nevada and Vermont.

In a related matter Tuesday, the NPWF called for support of proposed legislation known as the Paycheck Fairness Act in the U.S. Senate.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is expected to fail a procedural vote Wednesday in the Senate. Separately Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed two executive actions, which will bar federal contractors from retaliating against employees for comparing salaries and require contractors to report compensation data to the government by gender and race.

Wide-ranging support for the Paycheck Fairness Act was found in a survey of 1,000 likely 2014 voters by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and The Feldman Group Inc. for the NPWF, Rockefeller Family Fund and a third organization, American Women.

The survey’s margin of error was reported as plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.

Of those surveyed, 65 percent favored changes that make it more difficult for employers to pay workers different wages for the same work.

A majority — 58 percent — of men favored the proposal. Seventy-one percent of women supported the legislation.

Of those surveyed, 78 percent of African-American voters supported passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and 60 percent of whites agreed with that position.

McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.