November 14, 2013

Men still earn more in Maine, but gap shrinks

Census numbers reveal variations by community, but overall, Maine women are now paid 20% less.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Men continue to earn more money than women in communities across Maine and the nation, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The latest numbers collected from Maine’s eight largest communities suggest that the wage gap is larger in some than in others.

Data collected over the past three years shows that women in Bangor earn an average of $849 a year less than men, assuming both work full-time and year-round and earn the median salary. In Sanford, the median salary for men is $16,384 higher than that for women.

The Census Bureau released a huge spectrum of data on Americans, with breakdowns of all communities that have at least 20,000 residents. The demographic information was collected from 2009 to 2012 as part of the American Community Survey.

Numbers from individual Maine communities, such as men’s and women’s salaries, are considered less precise because the sample sizes are smaller, so margins of error are larger. But the wage gap also is clear in state and national data, and the difference in earnings is known to vary depending on the kinds of jobs that are available in an area.

In Maine, women earn 20 percent less than men. That gap is one percentage point less than the national average. In the state and the U.S., the margin shrank from an average of about 22 percent from 2007 to 2009.

The wage gap has gradually narrowed over time. Four decades ago, Maine women earned 42 percent less than men.

Four Maine communities appear to have smaller-than-average wage gaps: Biddeford, South Portland, Portland and Bangor. Four others appear to have bigger-than-average wage gaps: Sanford, Brunswick, Auburn and Lewiston.

Glenn Mills, chief economist for the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, was quick to point out that the small sample size makes for a large margin of error, so the data is “not necessarily so accurate.”

The margins of error vary for each estimate depending on sample size. The largest margin of error, for example, applies to the median earnings of a full-time, year-round male worker in Biddeford. The census estimate is $41,692, but the margin of error is $8,651 – 21 percent.

There also are variations from past estimates.

In Bangor, the gender gap for median yearly earnings was $6,069, according to the surveys from 2007 to 2009. That’s seven times the figure for the past three years – $849.

Still, Bangor and Portland have had the smallest wage gaps in both of the most recent three-year periods. Sanford has had the widest margin in both.

Charles Colgan, a former state economist and a professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, said it isn’t surprising that the wage gap is smaller in the state’s larger urban areas, where there are more jobs in a variety of industries.

He suspected that Sanford’s larger gap could be attributed to the fact that many men who live there work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery or at engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick, companies that pay high wages in male-dominated industries.

Sanford had the fourth-highest median earnings for all workers, including part-time and part-year, at $27,041. Bangor was the lowest, at $22,517, and South Portland was the highest, at $32,926.

In addition to income data, the statistics released Thursday covered a range of topics such as race, employment status, education and even the types of heat used in homes, all broken down by city and town.

Of the eight communities, Brunswick had the highest median age, 46.2 years. Biddeford’s was lowest, at 35.3 years.

Portland had the largest proportion of people who have never been married – 48.1 percent of men and 38.4 percent of women.

Brunswick had the most widows, 13.4 percent of women, and Lewiston had the most widowers, 3.3 percent of men.

Among residents with bachelor’s degrees, education was the most popular field of study in Lewiston, Bangor, Biddeford and Sanford. Business degrees were most common in Auburn, Portland and South Portland. Social sciences was the top field of college study in Brunswick.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

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