Share story

For a pretty progressive state, Washington looks practically backward when it comes to one key metric of gender equality: the pay gap between men and women.

A new report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the typical woman in Washington makes only 76 percent of what a typical man makes.

Nationwide, the women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio is at a slightly more equitable level of 80.9 percent.

The median weekly pay for women working full time in Washington was $746 in 2012, compared with $982 for men, data released Friday show. Only five other states had a larger pay gap between men and women.

The worst was Wyoming, where women made 65.5 percent of the men’s median, followed by Louisiana, at 72 percent; West Virginia, 72.6 percent; Alaska, 73.9 percent; and Mississippi, 75 percent.

The other Washington, as in D.C., was by far the best for women in terms of both actual pay and disparity. Women’s median weekly pay in D.C., at $1,072, was 94.8 percent of men’s.

The state with the best women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio was Arizona, at 86.8 percent. But women there made a median of only $670 a week, or $34,840 on an annual basis, while men made $772.

Women in Washington, in fact, had the 13th-highest median weekly pay nationwide, while men in the state had the eighth-highest pay.

Some say Washington’s dismal showing in terms of gender pay disparity is partly a reflection of the fact that its manufacturing and technology sectors have recovered quickly from the recession. Led by Boeing and, those two sectors in Washington are both male-dominated and well-paying.

An important asterisk: The disparity rankings are based on median weekly earnings across the full spectrum of the economy, and do not measure pay differences when men and women do the same job.

In other words, Washington’s pay disparity may say more about the jobs and career tracks that men and women pursue than any perceived discrimination in salary negotiations.

“One in five women is in a service job,” such as a waitress or dental assistant, said Todd Johnson, an economist in the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Men are in manufacturing, construction, and installation and repair occupations. We might think of them as blue-collar, but they’re still pretty high-paying.”

The data show that 21 percent of working women are in service jobs, compared with 13 percent of men, while 15 percent of men are in construction and manufacturing, compared with 3 percent of women.

Women also are well-represented in professional and management occupations, but within those categories they typically do not hold the best-paying jobs, said Diana Pearce, director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington. She cited as one example schools where the principal is a man and most of the teachers are women.

“Women with college educations tend to go into professions that pay less, like teaching,” Pearce said. “Men tend to go into higher-paying jobs, like business or law.”

If anything, she said, Washington’s pay gap could increase because fewer women than men are entering the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields — the so-called jobs of the future.

“We’re a progressive place, so we like to think those things don’t happen here. But they do,” she said. “It’s only going to get worse if we don’t address it.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or On Twitter: @amyemartinez