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Oklahoma wage gap between men and women widens

The wage gap between men and women in Oklahoma is wider than the national average and has grown larger over the past few years, according to new data released by the U.S. Labor Department.

Oklahoma women with full-time jobs earned an average 77 cents to every dollar their male counterparts earned in 2015, according to the Labor Department. Those numbers compare to a national average of 81 cents on the dollar last year.

In 2015, Oklahoma women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $640, or 77 percent of the $831 median weekly earnings of Oklahoma men, according to data released Tuesday.

The gap between men and women's pay in Oklahoma can lead to a lifetime of economic inequalities between men and woman, said Danielle Ezell, executive director for the Oklahoma Women's Coalition.

"It's certainly an important issue — that's much less money to support your children and pay for child care and it can equate to a half-million dollar difference between men and women for retirement later on," she said.

The comparison of women's to men's earnings in Oklahoma has grown from 68 percent of men's earnings in 1999 to an all-time high of 87 percent in 2009.

Since 2009, the Oklahoma ratio of women's to men's earnings has fluctuated, but the overall trend has been downward over the past few years, according to Labor Department data.

A coalition of state lawmakers, including Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City; Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman; and Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, backed legislation earlier this year that would have strengthened Oklahoma's equal pay laws.

The Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill would have strengthened enforcement for federal wage equality laws and also protect women from being fired for openly discussing what they earn in the workplace.

The Legislature came close to sending the Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill to Gov. Mary Fallin to sign, but the protections it offered to women were weakened in committee and the legislation died on the final day of the 2016 legislative session.

Virgin said she believes additional protections for women who try to negotiate for higher pay was a key provision in the bill.

"What we found is that women are sometimes unaware they are making less than their male counterparts and they feared repercussions in the workplace for talking about their pay," she said. "Really, the most important part of the bill was making sure that women were protected when they were having those conversations with their superiors."

Loveless said he plans to introduce similar legislation in the 2017 legislative session.

The 2016 bill faced last-minute opposition from business interest groups in the state, but Loveless said he was confident an understanding could be reached to get some version of the legislation passed in the coming year.

"I think we will get it done this year," Loveless said. "It truly is a bipartisan effort and I think we will see a lot of momentum on it."

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›