Gov. Dannel Malloy announced the creation of a commission to address the gender pay gap in Connecticut in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The Department of Labor and the Department of Economic and Community Development — which together comprise the commission — have been charged with investigating the factors that contribute to gender wage disparity in Connecticut and recommending policies designed to eliminate it. Malloy has asked the commissioners to make recommendations to address the gender wage gap by October 2013.
“While gender wage disparity impacts women first and foremost, the ramifications can affect entire families,” Malloy said in a Wednesday press release. “In many families, women are the breadwinners. In others, they are the only source of income. The disparity in Connecticut is unacceptably high, and while this is a complicated issue, that cannot be an excuse for inaction.”
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the timing of the commission.
While the press release said that women comprise 47 percent of Connecticut’s workforce, the typical woman working full-time in Connecticut in 2011 was paid 78 percent of what her male counterpart was paid, ranking Connecticut 25th on a list of states with the lowest wage disparity according to the National Women’s Law Center. That disparity, however, translates to a gap of over $13,000 per year on average.
Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a senior policy analyst at the National Women’s Law Center, said that Connecticut politicians can address much of this gap by creating policies to address women’s tendency to accept lower-paying jobs. Such initiatives, she said, include raising the minimum wage and creating training programs to prepare women to enter more lucrative professions.
A 2006 Cornell study — which Malloy cited in the press release — found that much of the wage gap can be attributed to differences in education, experience, choice of occupation and industry. However, 41 percent of the variability in wages could not be attributed to any factor, and it is widely believed that the variability is caused by gender discrimination.
Still, Steven Lanza, a labor economist at the University of Connecticut, cautioned against making such an assumption. Many other factors, including having children, were not controlled for in this particular study.
“In every social science study, there is always an unexplained portion of the analysis and 41 percent isn’t bad,” Lanza said. “Besides other secondary factors that haven’t been controlled for, unexplained variation arises from measurement error and from the simple random variation that is a part of life.”
Lanza added that Connecticut women differ from the national average in that they are generally more educated, so the factors that may lead to wage disparity in Connecticut might differ from those across the country.
Fred Carstensen, the head of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at UConn, said that Connecticut faces a particularly formidable barrier in discerning such unique factors. The state’s system for storing administrative data, he said, is the 47th worst in the nation according to a study he commissioned. The lack of data will make research questions much more difficult to answer, he added.
“What I hope the commission will do is not only look at policies that might be implemented, but also address the more fundamental issue, which is creating the kind of data that will permit you to track [gender wage disparity] on a regular basis,” he said. “We’re famous for having these one-off commissions, but we almost never go back and revisit the issues.”
According to a October 2012 study by the American Association of University Women, full-time working college graduate women on average make 82 percent of what their male counterparts earn.