Wage gaps persist in the state’s workforce despite legislation signed into law six years ago, according to a report from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Oregon Audits Division. Specifically, women and employees of color are still earning less than their male and white counterparts with gaps widening instead of closing for some.
The Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2005, the Pay Equity Bill, in 2017.
It made it illegal to discriminate in the payment of wages against an expanded group of people, adding race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability and age to its list of protected classes, and increasing penalties for violations. The intent was to reduce differences in pay between women and people of color compared to their male or white colleagues.
A 2014 Statesman Journal investigation revealed women in the state workforce made 88 cents for every dollar made by men. Bill supporters in 2017 said that gap remained at 80 cents per dollar.
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It also gave people more time to sue for pay disparities, the right to a jury trial, and the ability to seek compensatory and punitive damages.
After its passage, the state completed two equal pay analyses and implemented salary adjustments based on those analyses, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. As the report details, the state completed equal pay analyses for 33,000 employees in 2019 and 40,000 in 2022.
As a result, 3,459 employees got pay increases in 2019, and 2,917 got increases in 2022.
Wage gaps persist
For the report released Tuesday, the Oregon Audits Division analyzed 2022 payroll data from the Department of Administrative Services to determine if identified wage gaps had closed after the implementation of the bill.
State agencies implemented several “best practices” that should have reduced wage gaps over time, Secretary Shemia Fagan said during a news event about the report. Those included prohibiting employers from asking about salary history, requiring compensation to be based on objective allowable factors, and giving employees the right to sue if they believed they were the victim of unfair pay.
“Despite steps taken, wage gaps persist among state employees,” Fagan said.
Kip Memmott, audits director for the Oregon Audits Division, said the report found “significant pay gaps still exist within the state workforce despite recent good faith efforts by state leaders to address these inequities. There’s more work to be done.”
In 2015, prior to the legislation, women earned 83 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts and people of color earned an average of 91 cents on the dollar.
Today, the gap remains the same for women and has widened to 88 cents for people of color, according to the report.
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The gap also varied by role.
Wider wage gaps existed for people of color in protective services and technician roles, according to the report. In technician roles, people of color in 2015 made 95 cents for every dollar made by a white employee. In 2022, it was 87 cents.
For paraprofessionals, the gap closed, going from 96 cents to a dollar.
Women had a wider wage gap in protective services and service maintenance, earning 90 cents for every dollar made by men in 2022. It is a new gap for women in both roles. In 2015, women in protective services had no wage gap and women in service maintenance made 101 cents per dollar.
Further pay adjustments are necessary
“We found that Oregon must do more to close persistent wage gaps for women and people of color in state government,” Ian Green, audit manager at the division, said.
According to the Green, white employees received the largest pay adjustments in 2019 and 2022 while people of color received the smallest. In 2022, white men received an average $418 per month raise and white women received $419.
People of color had among the lowest raises in both years, added Green. For employees of color that adjustment averaged $372 in 2022.
More women and people of color would need to receive salary adjustments or their adjustments would need to be significantly larger on average to substantially change the overall wage gaps, the report stated.
Factors contributing to the ongoing gaps may be reasonable, authors added, including differences in education, experience or seniority, although systemic societal issues can also impact those factors and likely contribute to persistent gaps.
The report suggests further analysis, including analysis of how other governments or private sector employers implemented HB 2005.
Authors also suggest DAS review the existing pay equity processes to determine the cause of remaining wage gaps in the state workforce and see if adjustments are needed for future rounds of pay equity studies.
“We’ve made progress,” added Fagan in a statement. “Agencies have implemented best practices that could reduce wage gaps over time and many state employees saw their pay go up during two rounds of adjustments. On the individual level, that matters a lot. However, this report shows at the macro level we’ve still got work to do.”