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Women's Earnings Hit New High in 2005

by By Gail Moorstein - 01/11/2006
"Two government agencies recently issued reports looking at trends in the workplace. One of the reports looked at the pay gap between women and men; the other report analyzed the effect retiring baby boomers will have on the labor market."
Two government agencies recently issued reports looking at trends in the workplace. One of the reports looked at the pay gap between women and men; the other report analyzed the effect retiring baby boomers will have on the labor market.

The pay gap between women and men narrowed further in 2005, as median weekly earnings for women reached 81 percent of men's earnings, higher than the 80.3 percent ratio the previous year, according to figures released Sept. 28 by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median usual weekly earnings for women who were full-time wage and salary workers averaged $585 last year, an increase of $12 from a median of $573 in 2004, BLS said in a report, Highlights of Women's Earnings in 2005.

Usual weekly earnings for men rose less in 2005, to a median of $722 in 2005, a gain of $9 from $713 the previous year.

The 81 percent ratio of women's earnings to men's last year was the highest in the 26 years that BLS has tracked such figures. The gender gap in earnings has gradually narrowed since BLS began collecting the data in 1979, when women earned 62.5 percent of men's pay.

Among full-time workers who were paid by the hour, the gender gap was even narrower in 2005, with women earning a median of $10.31 per hour on average, or 85 percent of the $12.16 per hour earned by men.

Female part-time workers, who outnumber male part-time workers, had higher median weekly earnings than men -- $206 on average last year -- compared to $190. Male part-time workers are more highly concentrated in the youngest age groups, which typically have low earnings, BLS said.

Last year, women age 45 to 54 had the highest median usual weekly earnings at $644 on average, followed by 55- to 64-year-olds at $639 and 35- to 44-year-olds at $621. For all three age groups, earnings equaled about 75 percent of the earnings of men their age ($853, $855, and $822, respectively).

Women age 16 to 24 had the lowest median usual weekly earnings in 2005 at $381 on average, but that equaled 93 percent of the $409 median earnings for men their age. Next lowest in weekly earnings were 25- to 34-year-old women with $573, or 89 percent of the $644 median earnings for men their age.

Aging Baby Boomers: Labor Crisis Looming?

Some industries that are highly dependent on baby-boom workers face the prospect of tightening labor market conditions as these individuals move toward the typical retirement ages, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

Those employers with older workforces that expect to increase jobs in critical occupations in addition to replacing retiring baby boomers "could face especially intense competition for labor in the short run," the Sept. 22 report said.

"An actual shortage of labor is unlikely in the long run, however, because businesses can be expected to raise wages" and to take a variety of other actions in response to the anticipated slowdown in labor force growth, the report concluded.

At the same time, wage incentives and other "accommodations to the new labor market realities could take some time" to develop, CRS said. The adjustment period also could be prolonged if companies are slow to make changes, such as relaxing hiring standards or providing training to employees with outdated skills, high school dropouts, or others who might not be employed if not for the tight labor market, it said.

"In addition, firms will vary in their ability to alter compensation and other human resources policies, making them unequal competitors in their attempt to attract and retain an adequate number of workers," the report said.

This year, the oldest members of the baby-boom generation are turning 60, and the 74 million Americans born after World War II and before 1965 will increasingly reach the ages when workers traditionally have retired.

-- Ms. Moorstein is managing editor of HR information services for BNA Inc., a publisher of news, analysis and reference products providing intensive coverage of legal and regulatory developments for decision makers in business and government.
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