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Report: Gender wage gap hurts S.C. economy

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By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 27, 2015

Women working full time in South Carolina earn $10,000 less, on average, than men working full time in the Palmetto State, according to a new report on the status of women across the state.

That translates to a loss of nearly $8 million in potential economic impact on the state based on average household expenditures, data from the National Partnership for Women and Families and The Riley Center for Livable Communities show.

Median Salaries by GenderSource: 2015 Report on the Status of Women in South Carolina
“Whenever there is a disparity, that’s money lost in the economy. Whenever there’s a group that’s not being paid equally, that’s money lost in the economy,” said Amy Brennan, director of the Center for Women, which spearheaded the 2015 Report on the Status of Women in South Carolina.

White women make 77 cents for every dollar white men make. The gap widens for women of color, increasing to 68 cents for Asian women, 58 cents for black women and 52 cents for Hispanic women, data from the National Women’s Law Center show.

Female CEOs in South Carolina earn 70% of the wages their male counterparts earn, according to The Riley Center. Female physicians earn 68% and female software developers earn 86% of what men make for doing the same work.

Of the 43 publicly traded companies in South Carolina, only one has 33% female board representation. Twenty companies have no women on their boards at all.

The state ranks 49th in number of women elected to the state legislature. The S.C. General Assembly comprises 13.5% women.

Income Variance by GenderSource: U.S. Census Bureau,
2013 American Community Survey

Brennan said she hopes the report will spark conversations with legislators, CEOs, employees and families. She said she wants the findings to be the catalyst that boosts more women into positions of power and leadership and puts their earnings on the same level as men performing the same jobs.

Brennan said the report’s findings have to be seen as a statewide issue that affects the state’s economy. She said that improving the environment for women to excel economically, professionally, financially and personally will make the state more competitive.

“Men have to understand the challenges women face in order for us to address them together,” Brennan said. “Women can sit around and complain and bang our heads against the wall as long as we want to and nobody will hear it. ... These are not just challenges for women; they are challenges for the whole state.”

The state of women in S.C.

The report focused on the status of women in the areas of leadership, health and safety, education and economic security — and why the data matter.

Leadership: The report found that women are underrepresented in elected office, top-level management positions and company boards.

The lack of corporate diversity makes it more difficult for women to advance in their careers or earn more, Brennan said. It can also hurt companies that are not taking advantage of different perspectives and strengths. In the Legislature, it can mean that issues such as women’s health care and domestic violence are not being pushed, the report said.

Economic Closer lookSource: National Women’s Law Center.
Economic security: Economically disadvantaged women might have to rely on state programs to care for themselves or their families.

Those who make daily household financial decisions might not be investing as much into the economy as they could with higher wages.

Lori Dickes, an assistant professor at the Strom Thurmond Institute, Clemson University’s public policy research institute, said any time a group of workers earns less on the dollar compared with another group, that is money not earned, taxed or spent in the economy.

“I don’t want someone standing there in 25 years saying that we’re still not paid equally. It’s crazy,” Brennan said. “The equal pay act was in the 1960s and yet, here we are still talking about it.”

Education: Women have made progress in attaining high levels of education, but it has not always correlated to career advancement or higher wages.

The state is also dealing with a growing workforce talent gap, particularly in the fields of industrial production, computers and software, science and engineering, sales and marketing, and medical careers. Women are disproportionately underrepresented in these fields.

To attract more women to these sectors and boost pay, the report suggests increasing resources for education and training programs, as well apprenticeships, to encourage girls in kindergarten through 12th grade to pursue these fields.

The report also cited child care as a major barrier for nontraditional students pursuing educational or professional goals. Trident Technical College is the only state-funded school to offer child care for students on campus. The report advocated for an increase in child-care options for the children of high school and college students.

Health and safety: The report found that the state’s health care and legal systems come up short in protecting women.

Around 319,000 women in South Carolina are in need of publicly funded health and family planning services, yet only 29% of those women receive the health care they need.

The state ranks No. 1 in the nation for domestic violence against women. Gov. Nikki Haley has launched a task force to improve areas affecting domestic violence, such as school curriculum, reporting and screening, and emergency housing.

South Carolina currently has 18 shelter locations to cover 46 counties. More than 400 adults and children were denied shelter last year because of a lack of space, the task force said.

“When women are not safe and healthy, families, as well as our state’s economic and social health, suffer,” the report said.

A new kind of report

Most reports on women’s issues are more than 100 pages. Amanda Baldwin, the center’s development and program manager, said the center wanted to delve into issues affecting S.C. women and present the data in a compelling and relatable way. The amount of data that could be evaluated was overwhelming, she said.

They invited leaders from the community to join task forces; 15 women and two men agreed and spent a year on it. Baldwin said the center asked each of the task forces to consider how to get people not directly concerned with their particular issue — such as domestic violence or pay equality — to care about it. Two researchers helped them parse the data.

Baldwin and Brennan said it comes down to showing South Carolinians that women’s issues can adversely impact the entire state’s economy.

“When women can’t find quality affordable child care, when they can’t advance in a career, they wind up needing subsidies from the government. That’s one example of why child care is important for everyone,” Baldwin said. “We think that each issue can be tied back to the economy like that to show why it’s everyone’s issues, not just women’s issues.”

Brennan said the center also struggled to recruit men to participate on the task forces.

“When we invite people, they think, ‘It’s the Center for Women and a report for women, so it doesn’t involve me,’” Brennan said. “This will hopefully open the doors to have this conversation. This is about all of us. ... When challenges that affect women are costing our state millions of dollars, then people might start listening.”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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