Gender pay gap narrowing in Milwaukee, Waukesha counties

TEMPO Milwaukee's 2019 annual meeting.

Last updated on June 12th, 2020 at 01:35 pm

The median annual earnings of women in Milwaukee County are about 85% of the median among men – a pay gap that’s smaller than it is nationally and has narrowed in recent years, according to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report. 

In Milwaukee County, that means the difference of $41,206 in median annual earnings for women, compared to $48,413 for men, according to 2018 U.S. Census data. 

That gap has narrowed slightly over time, the report said. In Milwaukee County, women’s median earnings as a percentage of men’s are up from 81% in 2010. 

Nationally, women’s median annual earnings were 79% of men’s in 2018, compared to 77% in 2010. 

Gender pay disparities in Milwaukee County are also smaller compared to neighboring counties, including Waukesha, where women’s median annual earnings are 76% of men’s, the report said. Waukesha County women, however, make notably higher median annual earnings ($52,298) than the national median ($41,752). 

The gap in Waukesha County narrowed from 70% in 2010.

The Forum report was commissioned by the Women’s Leadership Collaborative, which includes Milwaukee professional women’s groups TEMPO Milwaukee, Professional Dimensions, and Milwaukee Women inc.

It analyzed employment numbers for 23 major occupational groups. It found women are highly underrepresented in several high-wage occupations and overrepresented in several lower-wage occupations.

Women account for nearly 84% of Milwaukee County residents employed in health care support occupations and almost 74% of those in office and administrative support occupations, which pay relatively low wages. Meanwhile, 20% of county residents in higher-paying architecture and engineering occupations and 21% of those in computer and mathematical occupations are women.

According to the report, the largest pay gaps are in legal, construction and extraction, and protective service occupations, such as police, fire, and corrections. 

Among higher-paying occupational groups, there is a notable pay gap among management positions, with women’s median earnings being only 80% of men’s, the report said. While women are equally represented in management occupations overall, they account for only 37% of those in top executive positions, which pay the highest salaries.

The gender pay gap occurs despite women outpacing men in educational attainment, with 31.7% of Milwaukee County women ages 25 and over having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29.1% of men. 

The report noted that the economic upheaval prompted by COVID-19 could affect the gender pay gap, but it’s too soon to tell how.

Some reports suggest women workers have been hit harder by job losses than men, but altered work arrangements (including more flexibility to work from home) could open the door for women workers and ultimately decrease the pay gap over time, the report suggested. 

The report suggests that making schedules more flexible for workers, cross-training workers on different tasks and increasing access to quality affordable child care and paid family leave could all help close pay gaps.

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