Although women hold half of all state and federal service jobs, they make 10% less than men in the public sector, according to an analysis of government documents obtained through freedom of information requests by an investigative non-profit.
The analysis by the Contently Foundation, a non-profit for investigative journalism, found that women earn 10% less median income than men in the public sector. The employee earnings records also show that 73% of government workers making $100,000 or more each year are men.
The foundation pooled and analyzed figures from documents provided by all 50 states and most federal agencies, except the Department of Defense and a handful of others that did not provide worker names or demographics.
As with private companies, the pay imbalance was particularly stark in government professions where men dominate, such as law enforcement, engineering and technology. Analysts said that these professions, in general, also offer higher salaries than sectors such as education and healthcare, which employ more women.
At the National Science Foundation, for example, men make $40,000 a year more than women in median income. At the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the disparity is $70,000, or a 42% pay gap. Similar gaps were found in varied offices such as public safety regulators, the Department of Agriculture, the Commission of Fine Arts and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“We need to raise the floor and increase the value we place on certain areas, in particular jobs like healthcare and education that women make up traditionally,” said Latifa Lyles, director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor.
The state with the largest discrepancy between men and women was California, where men make $19,500 per year more in median income than women, a 24% pay gap.
Documents on law enforcement, one of the state’s biggest expenditures, revealed one facet of the problem. California employs more officers than any state other than Texas, and its highway patrol spends more than $1bn a year on salaries, mostly for officers who police the roads. The 8,552 men employed by the department make, on average, twice as much as women there, $115,000 to $57,000.
Most of the department’s jobs are held by men, records show, and compensation for officers far surpasses salaries for administrative or clerical work, roles mostly held by women. In some cases, female office supervisors earned less than their male officer subordinates, according to the documents.
A similar wage gap existed in the California’s department of corrections, one of the state’s largest employers and an agency mostly staffed by men.
“Our issue is not a pay gap, it’s a gender distribution gap,” said Joe DeAnda, a former director of communications for the California department of human resources.
Left-leaning states tended to have greater pay equality than those where conservative politicians dominate, but there were notable exceptions. California ranked last for pay equality, for instance, while Texas ranked ninth. Hawaii and Maryland nearly reached gender-neutral compensation, as did the US Postal Service, which showed only a 2% pay gap.
The Department of Defense, with more than two million military and civilian employees, is the nation’s largest employer. A spokesman said the Pentagon was entitled to a special exemption that allows it to withhold data about its workforce.
While the federal government has endorsed equal pay since the 1960s, when John F Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, it has struggled to close the pay gap between men and women for similar reasons as the private sector. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a non-profit thinktank, the private sector pay gap between genders is about 20%.
In entry-level positions, the records show, the federal government has largely achieved its goal of hiring diverse workers across gender, age and race. But it has promoted only a few of these workers to supervisory positions, instead preferring to hire administrators from the more homogeneous private sector, analysts said.
“We talk about hiring people from within, developing your current talent,” said Cynthia Ferentinos of the US Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal agency that wrote a 2011 report on the problem.
“There’s a lot of diversity at the entry level, and you can take advantage of that when promoting for the higher level,” Ferentinos said.
Activists fear that the Trump administration is reversing gains toward pay equality, for instance when it scrapped a rule that required businesses with more than 100 employees to report pay data by race, gender and occupation.
“Blocking this rule is a big step backward in effectively addressing the wage gap,” said Emily Martin, a lawyer at the National Women’s Law Center. “Having companies report that data provides them real incentive to look at their own pay scales and, if there are discrepancies between how they pay men and women, to look at ways to fix it if there isn’t a good reason – experience, performance, etc – for those men to make more.”