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May 5, 2021
Posted Under: Advocacy

On May 5, the Alaska House Labor and Commerce Committee heard testimony on the status of gender pay equity in Alaska. Foraker President/CEO Laurie Wolf presented research conducted by Foraker on behalf of the nonprofit sector.

Thank you, Representative Spohnholz and Representative Fields.

I am Laurie Wolf, President/CEO of The Foraker Group, which serves as the state nonprofit association for Alaska and the nonprofit capacity builder. As the voice for the nonprofit sector, Foraker appreciates the opportunity to speak before the committee on a topic we are truly dedicated to in our daily work and for the long haul.

Part of our commitment to the sector is to be a source of research that can be turned into action to improve the lives of Alaskans and the communities where we live.

For more than a decade, we have been gathering data and sharing information about the impact of the sector on Alaska’s economy. This takes the form of tools and reports that capture Alaska’s nonprofit employment data, including data on Alaska’s pay gender gap. While we are planning to release data soon that will reflect the impacts of 2020, our most current data tells us that roughly 44,000 Alaskans work for a nonprofit in our state. That is about 17% of the state’s overall workforce, and it can be as high as 50% in some areas. Roughly 65% of these employees are women compared to 48% of women in all of Alaska’s employment base.

And yet, despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that mandated equal pay for equal work across genders, the gender pay gap continues to persist in Alaska and around the country.

As this legislative body noted – March 24 is Equal Pay Day in the United States. Although it may sound like a holiday, it is not a day of celebration. Instead, it is a day to increase awareness that we are not all paid equally for our labor. Specifically, Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work (on average) to receive the same wage that a man received the previous year.

In other words, this year women had to work almost three months into 2021 to make the same salary that their male counterparts took home in 2020. This calculation translates into women making roughly 82 cents for every dollar made by men in the United States. Because the date gets recalculated each year, it also serves to mark our collective progress toward closing the pay gap.

Importantly, as startling as that date may be, we know that when we factor in issues like race, ethnicity, or motherhood, the date shifts again – for the worse. For example:

  • Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Women’s Equal Pay Day is March 9, 2021.
  • Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is August 3, 2021.
  • Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day is September 8, 2021.
  • Latinas’ Equal Pay Day is October 21, 2021.

What we don’t know yet but what researchers across the country are estimating is that the impact on working moms during COVID will result in a significant hit to any progress we have made over the last decade as the pressures of closed schools, lack of day care, and safety concerns forced more women than men out of the workforce.

When it comes to women who lead nonprofits in this country, one leading researcher calculates Equal Pay Day will be June 8, 2021. That translates into women who lead nonprofits working 159 days for free – nearly half a year.

National data is important, but as Alaskans we like to know where we stand on our own. In prior years, we had relied only on comprehensive survey data, but then Karinne Wiebold, a senior economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, published a DOL Trends report on the gender pay gap.

Thanks to this work and her willingness to partner with us and the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, we have been able to move from survey data to employment data analysis.

Here’s how it worked. After compiling Department of Labor data on pay rates for a variety of job classifications, we were able to use employer identification numbers (EINs) to identify nonprofit employees. Then we applied gender information, which was available from PFD data. You see, Alaska has what no other state has – real time information on binary gender.

So in November 2020, we undertook a massive project with our two partners that resulted in a ground-breaking report documenting a high-level view of gender pay disparity in Alaska’s nonprofit sector. Of the data I share today, I hope this one sticks with you.

At the current rate of change, it will take 257 years to close the gender pay gap in Alaska unless something shifts drastically in our laws, policies, and practices. 

I won’t share all the findings from our study nor all the myths we struck down in both this study and the additional research by Nolan Klouda at the Center for Economic Development – that research was provided to the committee last week during testimony on HB 146. But I do want to highlight a few points to illustrate why this legislation is so greatly needed in our state.

  • The average woman in Alaska earns 72 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
  • In Alaska’s nonprofit sector, the average woman earns 79 cents on the dollar compared to male nonprofit workers.
  • Based on this data, a woman would need to work a 10+ hour day to make the same amount of money as a man working an 8-hour day in the same Alaska nonprofit job.

Perhaps more telling is what happens over the lifetime of a worker because of the pay gap:

  • The average woman worker loses more than $530,000 over the course of her lifetime.
  • The average college-educated woman worker loses nearly $800,000.

Now imagine that is your daughter, your wife, your sister, your aunt, your friend, or you.

As I noted earlier, one of the objectives of this report was to bust some common myths and perspectives that seem to justify for some people why it is okay that the pay gap exists. These perspectives are reflected in assertions about educational attainment level and women working in traditionally male occupations, among other criteria.

So while it is difficult to control for occupational differences, we did our best. And it is clear that even when we examine specific occupations across the spectrum comparing wages, gender mix, and formal education, the gender pay gap persists in our state.

Fair and equitable pay is the law in our country, and yet we have more work to do, both in and out of the nonprofit sector, to achieve pay equity. Other states have recognized the value in taking a stand for their workforce because they know what many but not enough employers know, and that is that equal pay for equal work attracts and retains the best and brightest staff of all genders.

In our report, we provide proven steps that employers can take today. But honestly, we know that not enough of them will do it unless it is the law.

Discrimination happens every day in our workplaces, and often much of it is unconscious. Bias is in our hiring practices, our systems that reinforce old habits, and in the bad behavior that violates many of our fundamental rights to be treated as equal.

HB 146, introduced by Representative Snyder, will not make Alaska the first to protect our workforce but will take monumental steps in the right direction. We are especially pleased to see provisions prohibiting certain workplace policies that could lead to pay inequity. These include prohibiting employers from asking applicants about their prior wages or benefits or using prior wages to determine future compensation, codifying the right of employees to inquire about their coworkers’ compensation, and requiring employers to disclose the monetary amount of a salary (or a range of salaries) when posting a job. These are proven tools to end the pay gap. We discuss each of these actions more fully in our report.

Alaska is at an economic crossroads in many ways, and our path forward must be to take every advantage to create a thriving economy based on an attractive job market. This legislation takes us in the right direction for all Alaskans. The women of Alaska should not have to wait for 257 years.

Thank you.