Lower Minimum Wage Tied to Greater Gender Wage Gap, Analysis Finds

  • June 05, 2013
  • By Jake Grovum (2)
Barbara Johnson, owner of Lyle's Cafe in Winthrop, Minn., speaks in support of a bill to raise Minnesota's minimum at the State Capitol. An effort to raise the minimum wage, which hasn't increased there since 2005, ultimately failed. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

States with lower minimum wages tend to have a greater gap in pay between men and women, according to a new analysis based on federal data.

Of the 10 states with the widest wage gaps between men and women, eight had their wage level set at the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, a National Women's Law Center analysis released Wednesday found. Meanwhile, of the 10 states with the smallest wage gap, just three had their minimum set at $7.25.

The new analysis of Census Bureau and Labor Department data comes as many states have moved to raise their minimum wage or are debating proposals to do so. President Barack Obama has called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.

The three states with the widest pay disparity – Wyoming, Louisiana and Utah – were found to have a wage gap where women earn about a third less than what a man earns in a similar position. All three have their minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour.

The 10 worst states when it comes to the gender wage gap all found women earning at least 25 percent less than a man in a comparable job. The average minimum wage among those states (Wyoming, Louisiana, Utah, West Virginia, North Dakota, Mississippi, Michigan, Alabama, Montana and Idaho) is $7.32.

The District of Columbia, where the minimum wage is $8.25, had the smallest wage gap. Women in DC earn about 90 percent of what a man earns in a comparable position.

But even among the 10 states with the smallest wage gap, the average discrepancy for pay among men and women was still about 15 percent. The average minimum wage among those 10 states (D.C., Vermont, Maryland, Nevada, California, Rhode Island, Arizona, New York, Florida and Arkansas) is $7.82.

The connection between gender pay gap and minimum wage is attributed to the high concentration of women in low-paying minimum wage jobs in the center's analysis. About two-thirds of American workers who earn minimum wage or less are women, the center says.

Efforts to raise minimum wage in states have found varied levels of success this year, and many have sought to tie those increases to inflation, insuring pay would increase over time automatically. Lawmakers in Minnesota, for example, ultimately abandoned a proposal over disagreement among the Democratic majority over how much it should be raised. New York recently agreed to increase its minimum wage in steps over the next two years, ultimately reaching $9 an hour.

One of the states singled out in the report – Louisiana – recently moved to address its wage gap. The legislature sent Gov. Bobby Jindal a bill to prohibit unequal wages based on gender for state employees in the same agency. But lawmakers rejected broader proposal that would have applied to private businesses.

Obama's proposal has gained little traction in Washington.