For proudly progressive Seattle, the news was a bombshell.
A report released in April revealed that our metropolitan area has the widest gender pay gap in the country. Women here earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Response has been swift. The Seattle City Council and Mayor Mike McGinn have taken steps to address wage inequality among city employees. Councilmember Jean Godden plans to introduce legislation to remedy the gender pay gap citywide. And candidates in the upcoming Seattle mayoral election were even questioned about the issue in one recent debate.
The city of Seattle has certainly taken its last-place ranking to heart, so this may come as a surprise to many Seattleites: The city did not, in fact, rank last.
The report on gender pay looked at the 50 largest metropolitan areas — not cities — and it is the Seattle metro that ranked last. The Seattle metro encompasses all of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. It includes the cities of Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett and all the rest. With a population of 3.5 million, it is a much larger area than just Seattle.
But with Seattle city government focusing on the gender pay gap issue, it makes sense to look at data for the city itself.
The city of Seattle actually has a smaller gender pay gap than our metro area, according to census data. Among Seattle residents, women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men — still nothing to brag about.
And how does Seattle compare with other big American cities? Do we still rank last, like our metro area?
No, that dishonor belongs to Wichita, Kansas. But don’t get too excited. We only rank 45th among the nation’s 50 most populous cities.
But look at the illustration. Three major U.S. cities — Dallas, Los Angeles, and Oakland — have no gender pay gap. In fact, in Dallas and Los Angeles, women earn slightly more than men, on average.
Some have argued that the gender pay gap is the result of the career choices women make, or due to long absences from work many women take to raise families. But if women in Dallas, Los Angeles and Oakland earn equal pay, why don’t women in Seattle?
Perhaps it’s a question the city council should explore when it begins crafting legislation to address the issue.