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Women make pay gains in California

Their wages rose a median 5.3% from 2000 to 2006, versus a 1.7% drop for men, data say.

March 09, 2007|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

Wage gains for women have sharply surpassed those for men in California this decade, reflecting the concentration of women in fast-growing sectors such as healthcare and financial services and their higher college graduation rates, according to a report released Thursday.

Median inflation-adjusted hourly wages for women rose 5.3% from 2000 to 2006, versus a 1.7% decline for men, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based nonprofit research organization.

The data are consistent with other studies showing women making wage gains against men. And though U.S. women overall still earn significantly less than men -- 86 cents for every dollar a man makes -- the new California numbers indicate that the wage gap is continuing to shrink nationally, said Jean Ross, the project's executive director.

"To the extent that industries that are expanding continue to expand, it's good news for women," Ross said. And to the extent that women outnumber men in colleges, "there'll be a further narrowing of the wage gap."

But the overall wage picture is mixed, she said. That's because gains come as large numbers of male workers, particularly those in manufacturing jobs, see a slowing in wage growth or a wage decline. More of the wage growth is occurring among married than among single women, but Ross said married women might be working more hours to make up for family income lost when their husbands were laid off.

"Not all of these women are willing workers," she said.

But willing or not, women may have become tougher negotiators in recent years, taking advantage of high demand for workers in some fields to ratchet up their income.

"Women are more willing to speak up for what they think they're entitled to instead of just what's offered to them," said Tory Johnson, founder of Women for Hire, a New York-based recruitment firm.

Deborah Burger, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, Calif., has seen her salary rise substantially as nurses there and elsewhere have unionized and as demand for nurses has grown. Burger earns $56 an hour, up from $10 a hour 20 years ago.

"When I first started, the gardeners outside the hospital I worked at made more money," she said.

Johnson said women had also moved into fields that men had traditionally dominated, such as financial services.

Nearly 1 of 11 women were employed in financial activities -- including positions in banking, accounting and insurance -- versus about 1 in 17 men, the report said. Thus women benefited more from the increase in jobs in financial services -- five times faster than overall job growth. Also, the typical financial-sector wage increased more than 16 times the typical wage for all sectors, according to the report.

"Many women shied away from these fields, thinking, 'If I don't follow the Dow or didn't major in economics, it's not for me,' " Johnson said. But, she added, financial services is based on nurturing personal relationships, and "women are very good at that."

A number of employers have made efforts to attract and retain women, in the process becoming more sensitive to pay equity concerns, said Tanya Butler, a staff consultant for Employers Group, a Los Angeles economic research firm.

"It's less of an old boys' network in the marketplace now and much more acceptable and encouraged for women to strive toward executive-level positions," observed Barbara Lee, a certified public accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in L.A.

molly.selvin@latimes.com

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