Shortly after the White House moved to address the income gap between men and women, Wake County leaders say they want to do the same.
Members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday said they want to find a way that the government and community can help ensure that women achieve the same academic and professional success as their male counterparts. Their comments came after hearing a report that the income gap in Wake County is worse than the national average.
Wake women on average earn 69 percent of what men make, according to Jackie Terry Hughes, an attorney who helped author the report presented to commissioners. Nationally, women earn 79 percent of what men make.
Wake women also face numerous obstacles for gaining employment and keeping it – including a lack of programs for women reentering the workforce and high childcare costs.
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A move to bridge the income gap is warranted, chairman James West said, because upward economic mobility is becoming harder and harder.
“I think it fits extremely well with some of our goals ... that focus on social and economic vitality,” West said.
West’s comments came three days after President Barack Obama announced that his administration will require businesses to provide more information about what they pay – part of a broader effort to pressure companies that pay women less for doing the same work as men. The Wake report looked at overall income and did not compare pay for men and women doing the same work.
The board took no action on the report Monday, but commissioner Caroline Sullivan said she hopes to create a task force to tackle its recommendations.
The Wake County Commission for Women, which authored the “State of Employment for Women in Wake County” report, suggested encouraging companies to offer paid internships for women returning to the work force, encouraging companies to ease the financial burden of childcare for their employees and combining GED programs at Wake Technical Community College with more college-level programs.
“We want to look at our vulnerable communities in a more coordinated way,” Sullivan said.
Commissioners, all Democrats, have taken an interest in wages and social issues since taking control of the board in late 2014. Two months ago, the board raised the base pay for the county’s lowest-level full-time workers from $11.08 per hour to $13.50 per hour – what commissioners called a “living wage.”
The Commission for Women report offered detailed information about the wage disparities between men and women in the county. Black and Hispanic women are most affected, Hughes said, and 50 percent of women without high school degrees live in poverty.
Making matters worse: Wake County has some of the highest childcare costs in the state. Annual fees for year-round childcare in Wake County range from $5,300 for a three-star center to $12,700 for a five-star center.
Perhaps most surprising, Hughes said, was the finding that the income gap is higher among educated women.
Women who don’t have a high school degree earn about $6,000 less than men with the same education, she said. Meanwhile, women with graduate degrees earn about $40,000 less than their male counterparts.
“In those industries where face time is critically important – the medical field, legal field, etc. – those are the industries where we find the largest gaps,” Hughes said.