By BRIAN LYMAN
The Montgomery Advertiser
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ The good news for Alabama is that household incomes rose slightly in 2013. The bad news is that pay equity – both racial and gender-based – has a long way to go.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama’s median household income rose to $42,849 in 2013, an increase of about three percent from the 2012 figure of $41,574. The increase was higher among minority groups: median income in black households rose 6.2 percent over 2012, while income in Hispanic households rose 10.6 percent.
However, racial disparities remain enormous. According to the Census, the median income for white households in 2013 was $49,465; the figure for black households was $29,210, or 59 percent of the white figure. The median income for Hispanic households was $34,773, about 70 percent of the figure for white households.
The nation’s median household income in 2013 was $52,250, according to the Census Bureau. Among whites, the median household income was $55,867; among blacks, it was $34,815; among Hispanics, it was $41,508. Nationally, black household income was about 62 percent that of white households.
Although figures for Alabama are not available, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the national black unemployment rate at about 11.4 percent in August, nearly twice the national rate of 6.3 percent.
“I think what’s causing that is the continued disparity in the unemployment rate among African-Americans and other groups of individuals,” said Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP. “We seem to have a larger percentage of people who are unemployed, which tends to bring the household levels down.”
There was also a significant gap in pay scales between men and women in the state. The Census Bureau estimated the median income of men employed full time in the state at $42,913. For women, the figure was $32,451, meaning women in Alabama earned about 76 cents for every dollar men made.
Nationwide, women in the United States make 78 cents for every dollar men make. The American Association of University Women, which released a report on the Census numbers last week, ranked Alabama 40th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for gender pay equity. That represented something of an improvement over 2012, when Alabama women made just 71 percent of what men made.
But Lisa Maatz, vice president of governmental relations for the AAUW, said in a phone interview that the gap fell in part because the median income of Alabama men also fell, from $44,567 in 2012 to $42,913 last year. Women’s salaries rose from $31,674 in 2012.
“There’s progress in sense that women and men are making closer wages,” she said. “But in order for that to happen, somehow, Alabama men are making $2,000 less a year.”
Of the southern states, only Louisiana – where women make just 66 percent of what men do, last in the nation – had a worse showing than Alabama. Florida was fourth overall and first among the southern states, with 84 percent; Georgia ranked 11th, at 83 percent.
According to the study, the gender gap was narrowest in the District of Columbia (91 percent) and New York State (86 percent).
The disparities have a number of causes, including educational attainment. Maatz also said disparities in high-paying fields play a role: According to the Census, women make up a majority of the relatively low-paying service workforce in Alabama, but only four percent of the construction and energy extraction sector, and just 12.5 percent of the state’s engineers and architects.
“We tend to have women segregated into the lower prestige, lower-paying jobs,” she said. “In Louisiana, energy production and fishing pay more, (but) they’re going to be disproportionately male.”
Taking time off to raise a family also affects pay, Maatz said.
“(Women) have a much harder time coming back into professional fields,” she said. “Women who don’t take off time tend to see wages increase over time, though there’s still a wage gap.”
Alabama became the focus of the equity issue in 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Lily Ledbetter, a former supervisor at Goodyear’s plant in Gadsden. Ledbetter’s male colleagues made significantly more than her at the time of her retirement in 1998, despite a decade of good employee reviews. The Supreme Court said the statute of limitations had run out on Ledbetter’s suit. In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which addressed the statute of limitations issue.
Both Simleton and Maatz suggested government action could close the gaps in pay. Simleton has been pushing for laws to incentivize businesses to hire ex-convicts, and prevent firms from asking about felony convictions on job applications. The AAUW is seeking to strengthen the provisions of the 1963 Fair Pay Act, including language that would require employers to pay equal wages for comparable and not necessarily identical work.
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com