The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Though the pandemic has driven hundreds of thousands of American women out of the workplace since March, women who work, especially Hoosier women, have always struggled.

A recent study by Zippia, an online job search site, ranked Indiana No. 8 out of the 10 worst states to be a woman. (West Virginia, Louisiana and Oklahoma took the top three spots.) Researchers examined economic opportunity for women in each state, and calculated the wage gap between men and women. On average, women earn just 65% of what men earn. Not surprisingly, 27% of Indiana’s women live in poverty, and just 23% of Hoosier companies have a female CEO.

In 2018, the American Association of University Women ranked Indiana 46th in the country for paycheck equity. But understanding the wage disparity issue isn’t easy.

Rachel Blakeman, who directs the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, believes that studies of the wage gap between men and women often blur the distinctions between how men and women approach work.

“This is a rather opaque look at how this is,” she said. “They don’t distinguish between full-time and part-time work. Women tend to work part-time more than men. When you put them all together, women’s earnings are going to be less because part-time workers make less money than full-time workers.”

Manufacturing is a big part of the Hoosier economy, she added, but women tend to choose jobs that are more flexible, and they don’t tend to take jobs where they can’t work with a lot of other women.

For those reasons, women tend to avoid manufacturing work.

Women often choose occupations that pay less than occupations chosen by men. “We don’t value the work that women do because they do child care and men take construction jobs,” Blakeman said, “and construction jobs pay far more.”

“No state has gender parity in pay,” she added. “It’s not that other states have figured this out. It’s true that we’re lagging behind other states, but we’re lagging more. If this was easy, we would have solved it already.”

In 2018, this page pointed out some of the structural and legal barriers to wage parity, including a wage parity bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, that never even got a hearing.

Overall, Hoosier wages tend to be lower for both men and women, and state lawmakers seem to still view lower wages as the way to assure businesses that it costs less to do business in Indiana, even though all Hoosier wage-earners bring home less bacon than their neighbors in other states.

Hoosier lawmakers would do well to think long and hard about how the wage economy works, and look at fostering a more equal playing field for everyone.

— The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne

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