Women’s wages are rising faster than men’s, but there’s still a long way to go
The tight labor market has been especially beneficial for women, who have seen their earnings rise faster than men’s each month for the past six months, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s wage growth tracker.
In February, women’s wages rose 4.4% from a year prior, while men’s rose 4.1%. December saw women’s earnings growing the fastest relative to men’s, with a 4.1% jump from the year prior compared to a 3.6% bump for men.
Women have faced some of the biggest economic challenges during the pandemic, when they lost their jobs or dropped out of the workforce at a much higher rate relative to men. Women — particularly women of color — make up a larger share of lower-wage jobs in the service sector that were hit hard when many businesses closed in March 2020. Non-white workers have also seen larger wage gains than white workers in the past few months, although the Fed’s data does not break down how non-white women have fared compared to non-white men.
Now, those same sectors have rebounded, and the tight labor market means employers are offering higher wages to attract employees, particularly women, back to work. The largest wage growth in February was in leisure and hospitality, with median wages increasing 4.8% compared to a year ago.
Though encouraging, women still have a much steeper climb back to pre-pandemic levels than men, and the wage growth in recent months does little to make up for the gender wage gap overall, says Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In 2020, the average woman working full-time, year-round earned 83 cents for every male dollar. Black women earned just 63 cents for every white male dollar.
Also troubling: More than 1.1 million women left the workforce during the pandemic, and the share of women in the labor force is still below its pre-pandemic level.
“It’s not a big difference,” says Sawhill of the difference in wage growth between men and women. “I can’t get too excited about that frankly.”
One of the reasons women tend to earn less than men is because they are over-represented in occupations that historically have lower wages, like teaching or nursing. That could start to change if women use the so-called Great Resignation to switch to higher paying jobs. People who changed jobs got a 5% bump in pay in February compared to 3.8% for those who stayed at their current roles.
While there’s much ground to be made up, Sawhill says overall, recent wage growth could reflect businesses finally starting to pay workers more after decades of not keeping up with productivity.
“Maybe COVID has been a disruption in the labor market,” she says. “Maybe finally the labor market is looking at what workers are being paid and saying, Hey, we can’t attract workers unless we raise wages.”
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