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Pay gap erased for some regional workers

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development found that the wage gap between men and women who work in the health care and social assistance industry has virtually disappeared in northwest Minnesota. However, stark differences remain in other areas. (Contributed)

Some women working in northwestern Minnesota have virtually closed the wage gap with their male counterparts, according to one measure cited in a recent state report.

"Since the end of the recession, median hourly wages increased faster for women than for men in health care and social assistance — so much so, wage rates in the industry were relatively even in 2016," said the report by regional labor market analyst Chet Bodin.

His report looked at hourly workers in the health care and social assistance industry and his findings were published on a recent state Department of Employment and Economic Development report. The region he looks at includes Douglas County.

Bodin's report emphasizes that the department's research still shows an overall gender pay gap in northwestern Minnesota as well as statewide. The group of workers he examined included public and private sectors; the improvement could be explained by a Minnesota law that requires pay equity among public employees.

In private industry, wage inequalities persist, with women in northwestern Minnesota earning about 66 cents for every dollar a man makes, the report says.

Patty Tanji, president of the Pay Equity Coalition of Minnesota, applauded Minnesota's public sector for striving for pay equity. Pay equity occurs when employers reward workers based on skill, effort, working conditions and responsibility level, leaving out their gender, she said.

"We, in Minnesota, have come a long way in this regard in public employment," she said. Tanji added that those factors, "are not a typical factor determining wage in the private sector in Minnesota. Those wages are determined by marketplace bias alone."

Health care and social assistance as a category make up one of the most significant industries in northwest Minnesota and is projected to grow.

"For employers competing in a tight labor market, steps toward equal pay may help businesses thrive moving forward," Bodin's report says.

Some private companies have also made pay equity a priority. This week, Starbucks announced it had achieve pay equity across race and genders.

"The gender pay gap is real and Starbucks is committed to not only talking about it but addressing it," said Lucy Helm, the company's executive vice president and chief partner officer, speaking at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, according to CNBC. Her announcement was met with thunderous applause from the audience, the network said.