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March 19, 2008
A Cody woman juggling two preschool children and a job also attends Northwest College full time.
“I don't know,” responds Gina Shroyer when asked how she manages. Deciding to enroll “was a scary step. I wasn't sure how to balance school financially.
“I go day to day with two small children.”
She's thankful for financial assistance from two Soroptimist awards, various grants, work study at NWC and the Wyoming Department of Family Services.
“My ultimate goal is to support my family and get away from state assistance,” she said.
Like women in Wyoming, Shroyer will enter a job market where, on average, women earn 30 percent less than men, according to the January 2008 Wyoming Women Status Report. The report by the Wyoming Council for Women's Issues also states the state has the 48th worst wage gap in the nation, with women earning 63 cents for every $1 men earn.
To share that data, the women's council joined a statewide, educational campaign called Equality Initiatives (EI). It aims to highlight the successes of women in Wyoming as well as the difficult challenges they face, says program director Sarah Mikesell Growney of Cody.
Some attribute the wage gap to Wyoming's male-oriented economy, she said. But even when the energy sector is eliminated from consideration, women in other occupational areas around the state make less money.
“Equality Initiatives is thankful for the oil and gas industry,” Mikesell Growney said. “They do pay high wages for women.
“We want to get more women in there.”
Another positive occurs in state government, which offers equitable pay. Teacher salaries are improving, but nursing pay is still low, Mikesell Growney said.
Women who work in white-collar jobs form the “pink collar ghetto,” she said.
Women need to ask for more money, Mikesell Growney says, but that's only one reason for the wage gap. Other factors could be varying credentials and less availability of overtime in women's jobs.
“It's not always because of discrimination,” she added.
Women could be helped with different shifts to accommodate family situations, more child care and a higher minimum wage.
“Our biggest talking point is to get women self-sufficient,” Mikesell Growney said. “When a woman suffers, the child suffers, and when the child suffers, the community suffers.”
Women could be helped by entering the technology, math and science fields, she said. Diversifying the economy also could help end the occupational segregation of men holding higher-paying jobs.
“Good-paying jobs for women are hard to come by,” Mikesell Growney added. “If we could solve the gender wage gap, we could solve many more problems.”
Closing the gap would reduce the loss of $75 million per year in productivity by better using the labor force, reducing turnover, recuperating training costs and lightening the demand for social services. State tax income also would rise, Mikesell Growney said.
The woman who holds multiple or part-time jobs requires subsidies, health support and food stamps, she said. But if she earns a livable wage, she no longer needs those services.
Positive changes are occurring, Mikesell Growney added - the 2006 child care bill and first lady Nancy Freudenthal's self-sufficiency campaign.
“Women's salaries are on the rise in Wyoming, and men's are increasing, too ... at a higher rate,” Mikesell Growney said. “This is a community issue.
“If she succeeds, we all succeed.”
With a college degree, Shroyer said she hopes to succeed at earning a living wage, enough to support herself and Jace, 4, and Skylair, 2. For now, she enjoys her studies, having earned a 3.5 GPA last semester.
“I think, as a non-traditional student with more practical experience, it's easier to focus,” she said. “I've done better than I thought I would.”