Some paydays more equal than others

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By Roger Snodgrass

National Equal-Pay Day looked downright unequal in Los Alamos County, according to a New Mexico county-by-county wage study announced by Lt.-Gov. Diane Denish Tuesday.

Los Alamos County, one of the wealthiest in the country, came in last in the state in pay equity, with women earning 57 percent of what men earned.

“For every dollar a man is paid, women were paid 57 cents,” Denish said in a telephone interview, discussing the study.

Tuesday was National Equal Pay Day, the day this year by which, including all last year, full-time women on average earned as much as the average male earned last year alone.

Nationwide, the National Committee on Pay Equity said that the gap between men and women stood at 77 percent last year, unchanged from the year before. Median full-time earnings for men was $42,261 and $32,515 for women, according to U.S. Census statistics released in 2006.

The New Mexico report came from information compiled by the Southwest Women’s Law Center and was based mostly on data from the 2000 Census.

“That was the most recent year when census data was available for all the counties in N.M,” said Jane Wishner of the center.

More recent data, from 2006, was available for seven New Mexico counties but did not include Los Alamos.

The report said that mining communities also exhibited a high wage gap, while the pay gap is lower in poorest counties, because there is less income for everybody.

Denish acknowledged that the Los Alamos information may have changed, and the data did not compare wages in terms of equal work.

But, she said, “what we know is that in every county women’s poverty rates are higher than men’s and the wage gap contributes to that.”

Further, she noted that in 29 out of 30 counties in the state, more than half the women who worked all year long would have been eligible for food stamps if they were in a family of four.

“Our thrust is that this is not just a women’s issue; it becomes a family issue,” she said. “It becomes a tax payer issue, because these women need more social services.”

Wishner said, “We hope that this report will generate lots of interest and questions about the wage gap and also help develop resources to study this further so we can get to the underlying causes and try to solve them.”

Santa Fe County led the list of counties with an 83-percent pay discrepancy in 1999. Interestingly, Denish noted the gap narrowed when women’s pay in Santa Fe rose to 91 percent of men’s pay in 2006

The study suggested the improvement may have been related to the large number of county residents that are employed by the state, and by the increases in the minimum wage that have gone into effect in recent years.

In Los Alamos, Diana Stepan, assistant county administrator, said she was surprised to hear the findings.

She said the county regularly reviews pay for county employees, “looking at all people in all positions,” she said. “Where there were discrepancies, the county council had budgeted an equity pool for adjustments.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, which accounts for many of the high salaries in the county, recently settled a multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit related to gender and ethnic pay inequities.

“Since the 2000 Census used in the report, we have implemented actions to address pay equity and we continue to look at it,” Steve Sandoval, a spokesperson for the laboratory, said this morning.

In the long term, he added, the lab expects to see pay equity alignments as a result of a new “Compensation Program Design project.”