March is National Women’s History Month, and in honor of that event, we decided to use this series to revisit a topic that we first touched upon a year ago: gender balance in the Gulf Coast’s green economy.
For many years, Louisiana women have lagged behind their male counterparts in take-home earnings. In part, this has been due to their near exclusion from male-dominated fields such as construction and engineering that offered better pay scales for skilled and unskilled labor than the service sector, which was disproportionately female. Now, with the recent Senate passage of the RESTORE Act as part of the Surface Transportation bill, and steps at local institutions of higher learning to steer greater numbers of female undergraduates towards career paths in the sciences, there could be an unprecedented opportunity for more women in coastal Louisiana to move up the salary ladder by participating in restoration projects. In a three-part series of posts, we will examine some of the roots of the existing gender imbalance, and look at why addressing this issue could be beneficial for the Bayou State.
At present, many of the industries that stand to gain most from the RESTORE Act — a bill that would direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties from the 2010 oil spill towards gulf restoration efforts in the states affected by the disaster — have disproportionately few local women in their ranks. For example, based on 5-year estimates from the 2006-2010 American Community Surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 3% of Louisianans working in the construction sector during the latter half of the ‘00s were female. At first glance, this doesn’t seem that surprising, since the figure roughly mirrors comparable statistics for women’s participation in construction at the national level. But when you consider that this skewed imbalance coincided with a heady period of investment in heavy infrastructure and flood- and hurricane-damaged home rebuilding following the levee failures and storms of 2005, it’s apparent that many women missed out on participating in one of the main drivers of economic activity and wage growth in southeastern Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
Indeed, in an August 2008 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, researchers from the Commerce Department noted that in 2007, Louisiana ranked second from last among all states for gender wage parity, with median earnings for Louisiana women that year ($27,469) equaling only 65.4 percent of the median earnings for Louisiana men ($41,980). And, judging by the below map of gender gaps on wages at the state level, it is pretty clear that differences in occupational choices between the two sexes – and their consequent effects on take-home pay – are also pronounced in Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana’s neighbors on the central Gulf Coast.
In our next post, we’ll look at some of the historical and sociological reasons why this might have been the case.
Gender gap on wages is slow to close [The New York Times]
Green jobs: What about the women? [Mother Nature Network]
Hurricane projects fueled economic boom for New Orleans area [The New Orleans Times-Picayune]
Women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s, 1979-2007 [Bureau of Labor Statistics]