By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Louisiana has the nation’s largest gender pay gap, with women paid about two thirds of what men are paid, according to new census data.
Figures from 2013 also show that Mississippi’s gap was 77 percent, about average nationally, but average pay for both men and women in Mississippi was the nation’s lowest: $39,956 and $30,667 respectively.
“There’s still a $10,000 or thereabouts difference,” said former state Sen. Gloria Williamson, a member of the Mississippi Commission on the Status of Women.
In Louisiana, by contrast, men’s pay was in the top half nationally, averaging $48,318, while women’s pay ranked 44th among the states and Washington, D.C. at $31,865.
That indicates high gender segregation in Louisiana jobs, “possibly in the oil and gas area, which pays well but doesn’t have a lot of women,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of governmental relations for the American Association of University Women, which used census data for men’s and women’s average pay to calculate the pay gap for all 51 jurisdictions.
The District of Columbia had both the narrowest gender gap _ women’s pay averaged 91 percent of men’s _ and the highest average pay at $67,610 for men and $61,760 for women.
It was followed by New York state at 86 percent, Maryland at 85 percent, and Florida, California and Arizona at 84 percent.
The widest gaps, after Louisiana’s, were 69 percent for Wyoming and West Virginia and 70 percent for Utah and North Dakota.
Most of the top states and Washington, D.C., have highly educated workforces, Maatz said. “The average educational attainment for women in this area is much higher than the national average. We do know that getting an education can help women close the pay gap. It doesn’t completely close it but it is one of the best tools women have to help boost themselves,” she said.
The bottom five, like Louisiana, tend to rely heavily on “kind of traditional male jobs,” she said. “In West Virginia you have coal mining; in Wyoming you have ranching and farming. In North Dakota, there’s a booming energy and gas industry.”
Some of the gap may just reflect the way income is reported, Maatz said. “We know, and ranchers talk about it, that when you’re running a ranch it’s a family operation. But when you report the income you report it for the head of household.”
Williamson said seven equal-pay bills were introduced in the Mississippi Legislature last year. “They all died. They never even got before the chairman of the committee.” Mississippi’s U.S. senators, both Republicans, both voted against a national bill.
Williamson said women nationwide should all stage a one-day strike. “Don’t go to work. Don’t go to the office. Don’t go to schools. Don’t go if you work for the state of Mississippi. Just stay home. One day. And see what happens.”