Closing the gender pay gap in Tri-Cities

Closing the gender pay gap in Tri-Cities
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- The gender pay gap, the disparity between dollars earned by women and men for doing the same job, has made headlines. KEPR discovered that gap is wide here in the Tri-Cities as well.

Maria Ellinger is looking to improve her standard of living, so she's enrolled in a class at CBC. It's a course on manufacturing, traditionally a vocation chosen by men. Maria is one of the few women in the program.

"I'm hoping to get a better pay and have good benefits, and that's what I'm looking for," said Maria.

In the Tri-Cities, wages have risen for women over the last decade. Back in 2000, women made just 53 cents on the dollar compared to a man. By 2012, that number had risen to 70 cents. Nationally, that number was at 81 cents for the same time period. Updated stats aren't yet ready for our region, but the national gender pay gap was most recently found to be 83 cents for a woman compared to every dollar a man made.

Students like Maria may be helping close that gap.

"There's more movement toward getting female workers into higher and more technical jobs in manufacturing," said Ajsa Suljic, a regional labor economist.

Getting more women into programs like STEM - science, technology, engineering, and math - and manufacturing at CBC is the key to improving the wage gap between men and women locally here in the Tri-Cities.

"It would be real nice if a lot more women would have the opportunity to step into manufacturing," said Maria. "I think they'd love it."

Although Hanford does play a major part in local wages, too. The site is responsible for a third of the local payroll.

"Majority of all work force at Hanford is still male, that work in occupations that pay a lot more money," said Suljic.

It's an effort federal, state and local governments are trying to change.

"We are pushing toward educating more females in those occupations where male workers are mostly dominant," said Suljic.

And Maria believes all women have the opportunity to do this.

"If they could step up and not be scared, we have the opportunity to do it too," she said.

Between 2005 and 2010, women were hired more than anyone else in the Tri-Cities.