By D. Patrick Jones
“Women hold up half the sky,” Chairman
Mao Zedong famously uttered, when discussing the role of women in the Chinese
revolution. Since then, the phrase has become a rallying point for many women.
Do they hold up half of the economic sky in the greater Tri-Cities? Some data
are available to answer that question. But let’s start with some national
Over the past four decades, it is
undeniable that women have made economic progress. Yet, one important measure
has plateaued over the past two decades. After climbing from 38 percent in 1970
to 46 percent in 1995, the participation rate of women in the work force has
stayed the same since then, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or
BLS. The rate is the share of women employed or looking for employment out of
all adult women.
On the other hand, the wage differential
between women and men has continued to narrow, according to the BLS. In 1980,
median earnings for women amounted to 60 percent to that of men; in 2017, it
had climbed to 80 percent and has continued to move up over the past few years.
The gap, even if it is closing, is the subject of much research into causes,
such as the choice of occupations.
Consider high-paying occupations: 60
percent of all working pharmacists in the U.S. are women; yet only 11 percent
of all civil engineers are female. Now consider less well-compensated
jobs: women make up 82 percent of all
social workers and 71 percent of social service agency managers. Even within
higher paying occupations, women often earn less than men. Take the latest
nationwide figures for accountants from the BLS: Female accountants and
auditors earn 75 percent of the salaries claimed by their male counterparts.
Leadership and senior roles undoubtedly play a role here. This raises the
question of the status of women within firms.
BLS data don’t cover this question.
However, Catalyst, a nonprofit that has worked decades to
promote the role of women in the workplace, recently tabulated some information
from the S&P 500 companies. Currently, 21 percent of executive level
positions in these companies are filled by women, while slightly less than 5
percent of the CEO suites have a female in them.
What about the Tri-Cities? Let’s start
with the labor force. The state Employment Security Department, or ESD, tracks
overall participation rate by gender. In
2017, more than 61 percent of Franklin County women were in the labor force
versus 56 percent in Benton County. Female participation in Benton County has
actually dropped by 4 percentage points since 2001, while Franklin County’s has
increased by 5 percentage points. The statewide average was 59 percent, hardly
different from U.S. averages.
For both counties, the female rates are
a good dozen percentage points lower than those of men.
Where in the local work force are women
predominant? ESD doesn’t track
participation rates by industry. But it does calculate shares of those employed
by gender. The four sectors with a majority female work force are: finance,
education, health care and social assistance and the hospitality industries
Their ratios are in line with Washington averages, with the exception of
finance, where the Tri-Cities shows a higher penetration of women. Local
sectors with the lowest representation of women are construction,
manufacturing, utilities and wholesale. These employment ratios here largely
match those statewide.
Unfortunately, not much can be reported
on earnings by gender in the two counties. We do know from Benton
Franklin Trends data that in 2017, average annual earnings were nearly
$50,000. If local wage patterns mirror national ones, then Tri-City females
earned about $40,000 that year.
Similarly, we can’t report any
data-based conclusions about women in business leadership roles in the
Tri-Cities. If local trends don’t deviate much from national ones, it would be
surprising if any of the largest private sector firms here have a female in the
corner office. Small firms, however, are likely a different matter.
These firms are nearly all
owner-operated. The U.S. Census publishes a survey every five years on firm
ownership by gender (and race/ethnicity). The most recent survey, in 2012,
provides a detailed snapshot of gender roles in owner-operated companies in the
Tri-Cities. About 37 percent of all
registered businesses were female-owned in that year. However, many of these
businesses had no employees. Of those that did employ someone other than the
owner, about 16 percent were female-owned.
The same survey tracks businesses
jointly owned by a man and a woman, without and with employees. For 2012, those
shares were 18 percent and 25 percent, respectively. This implies that of all
the owner-operated firms in the Tri-Cities, about one half had a woman in an
executive role. For firms with employees, the share was more than 40 percent.
Overall, however, it’s hard to conclude
that women are holding up half of the business sky in the Tri-Cities. But their
influence will continue to grow, if nothing else, because of their
outperformance in education.
D. Patrick Jones
is executive director for Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public
Policy & Economic Analysis.
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!