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Vermont’s gender wage gap ranked lowest in the country

Ashley DeLeon (VTDigger)

Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Vermont has the narrowest gender wage gap in the country, according to a recent study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center.

The average Vermont woman makes 91 cents for every dollar earned by the average white, non-Hispanic man, according to the study, representing a wage gap of 9 cents. That’s compared to a national wage gap that averages at 18 cents.

“It’s quite possible that if we were to really get down in the weeds, we may not be exactly number one, but we’re certainly way, way up there,” said Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women.

However, she noted that Vermont’s tiny population size means “the margin of error for Vermont’s numbers may be a lot higher” and could have skewed the results. And the results likely vary based on women’s racial background, with the wage gap for white women smaller than for Asian women, and unavailable for other women of color.

“That 91% is getting quoted as the average of all women, but if you pull out by race, age and other kinds of conditions, it looks much worse,” Brown said.

Women in Vermont make a median salary of $46,616, while white, non-Hispanic men make $51,212 annually, according to the study. Median earnings are calculated among full-time, year-round workers who self-identify as male or female.

The Commission reported that in 2007, the wage gap “was about 16 cents on the dollar.” It has since dropped 7 cents.

“It’s really important to recognize the hard work that Vermont has been doing, particularly in the past 10 to 15 years or so to try to address the wage gap. We’re seeing those efforts really pay off in Vermont, and we can feel really proud of that,” Brown said.

Brown credits much of the state’s progress over the years to recent changes in legislation, noting Vermont “has one of the stronger equal pay laws in the country” to protect against gender-based discrimination, and Act 126, which ban employers from asking potential new hires about their past salaries.

The law also allows employers to confirm voluntarily disclosed information about past or current compensation after an employment offer has been extended. Without this law, the door is opened for “perpetuating inequities that may have started early on in someone’s career,” Brown said.

“We are one of the handful of places in the country that has made that illegal,” Brown said.

According to state rankings based on race and ethnicity, Asian women in Vermont experience a 33-cent wage gap, placing Vermont at 44th in the country. The wage gap for Latina women is 30 cents, placing Vermont in 1st.

Due to insufficient data resulting from small sample sizes in Vermont, specific wage gap information about Black, Native American, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander women is unavailable.

“There are a lot of different causes of the wage gap, and they all have a role to play in terms of why there are wage gap differences, even between different groups of women of color,” said Maya Raghu, director of Workplace Equality & Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “One of the one of the main reasons is discrimination, bias and stereotypes about women, mainly about the kinds of work that women do ... along with stereotypes about mothers and their commitment and capabilities to a job.”

Raghu could not speak directly to Vermont due to unavailable occupational data, though she said that much of the work done by women of color is “undervalued and underpaid.”

“A great example is care. The work of domestic workers, child care workers, nursing home workers, people who provide care, is largely done by women of color or many immigrant women. Those jobs pay very low wages,” she said. Many of these occupations lack benefits like paid leave or affordable childcare.

Another contributing factor to the wage disparity is that Black and Latina women are not often the “primary breadwinners in their families,” Raghu said, as they are more often primary caregivers.

Cultural norms may also discourage people from disclosing their pay or their salary with others, which can make it difficult to detect pay gaps. Some employers even have policies that discourage or penalize employees for doing so.

“It can be hard to uncover pay discrimination in the first place. If you don’t know what your co-workers are making, or what the guy down the hall is making, then it's hard to know that you’re being paid less,” she said.

If employers don’t conduct internal reviews to justify pay gaps, disparities will go uncovered, and the gap will continue to grow.

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