Bruce Murphy

State Is a Leader in Women Workers

New York Times analysis shows Wisconsin is one of the leading states in the percent of women working.

By - Jan 8th, 2015 01:43 pm
Percent of employed working-age women by county. Map from New York Times. (Click to see a US wide interactive map)

Percent of employed working-age women by county. Darker purple indicates above average employment. Map from New York Times. (Click to see a US wide interactive map)

Across the nation, 70 percent of women aged 25 to 54, in their prime working years, are employed. But in Wisconsin, the percentage is higher. Some of counties with the highest percentage of women working include two in this metro area: Washington County (83 percent) and Waukesha County (79 percent). Dane (83 percent) and Sauk (84 percent) counties in central Wisconsin also rank high. But the state’s leader is Pierce County (85 percent of women working), located along the Mississippi River, just across the border from the Twin Cities metro area

The data comes from a recent county-by-county analysis of the entire country by the New York Times. While the story doesn’t compute state averages, the color coded, county-by-county map makes clear that Wisconsin is among just a handful of states with the highest percentage of women working. In all, 70 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties rank above the national average in the percent of women working. The two exceptions are the heavily Native American Menomonee County (61 percent of women working) and Forest County (66 percent) along the Michigan border.

What makes Wisconsin a national leader in working women? Hard to say. The map shows it is part of a group of North Central states with high rates of working women, including Minnesota, most of Iowa and Nebraska, and much of South Dakota and North Dakota. What do they have in common? The only thing I can think of is agriculture. But the other area that ranks above average includes the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which has some farming but still seems pretty different than North Central states.

“The places with low levels of female employment have a lot of overlap with… high-poverty places,” the story notes. In Wisconsin, the two counties with a below-average percent of women working are horribly impoverished Menomonee County (30.1 percent below the poverty line) and Forest County (15.4 percent), the state’s 15th poorest county. Yet the state’s second poorest county, Milwaukee (22.4 percent below the poverty line) nonetheless is above average in the proportion (73 percent) of women working.

While a lack of employment for both women and men can correlate with poverty, “the geographic patterns of female work also have more nuances than the male patterns,” the story notes. One such factor is women staying home to bring up children. “Female employment rates are relatively low in some fairly affluent areas, including Utah and other heavily Mormon areas — as well as on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The East 80s and the suburbs of Salt Lake City may be very different places, but both have local cultures with a bent toward stay-at-home parenting, which still is far more likely to be done by mothers.”

By contrast, “female employment rates are notably high, especially compared with male rates, in New England and parts of the upper Midwest, which tend to be fairly well off. Female rates are also comparatively high in a swath of lower-income rural areas across the middle of the country. In all these places, education — the fact that women are now more educated than men — plays a big role in these contrasts.”

All told, the story doesn’t provide a very thorough explanation of why the rate of female employment varies so much through the country. I suspect there are other factors at work that haven’t yet been deduced.

The article is part of the Times’ data-oriented “Upshot” stories. Prior to this, an Upshot story did a county-by-county analysis of the percent of working age (25-54) men who aren’t employed. Here the story seemed a little simpler: low employment tended to connect to high poverty and low rates of college education. In Wisconsin, Menomonee County again led the way with 42 percent of working age men unemployed, while in Milwaukee County it was 24 percent. This compares to just 10 percent in Waukesha County. But overall, nothing about Wisconsin stood out: the state was not notably higher or lower in the percentage of working age men who were unemployed.

Categories: Business, The Press

20 thoughts on “Media: State Is a Leader in Women Workers”

  1. Working Woman says:

    Here are just a few reasons Wisconsin women may be working more:

    Their 70-cents-on-the-dollar wages force them to work more to make up the difference between theirs and male counterparts’ wages.

    Thanks to the State Legislature, women who earn less than men for the same work have fewer legal remedies to make employers pay them fairly.

    Many women are teachers and teachers lost an average of $5000/year in their wage/benefits package since 2010, with no way to make up even some of the difference or negotiate for better. Thank you, Act 10.

    If they’re not already the sole wage earner in the family, chances are good that women could become it due to Wisconsin’s lagging behind the rest of the country in jobs and economic growth.

    We have to supplement our children’s income as our college-educated children have difficulty finding self-supporting jobs (for the reasons above) and come out of college with staggering debt. Or we put a second mortgage on the house to pay for college.

    Some women have lost their healthcare thanks to Walker’s denial of Medicaid money.

    We have to supplement our parent’s payment for healthcare because they didn’t anticipate the staggering costs of nursing home, hospital and palliative care.

    We’re too broke to move to Minnesota.

    We’re too old to move to Canada.

  2. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Total baloney that women get paid less if they have same duration, work same hours and have the same abilities. Everyplace that I have worked in 50 years men and women were paid same for same job. This is just another liberal lie. Any employer that would pay the women less than the men would have miserable office or store.

  3. Working Woman says:

    As with most of your white, male demographic, you are slow–or unwilling–to detect any inequalities in the workplace or life. If YOU were being paid less or treated less, you’d be the first to holler ‘unfair’ or file a lawsuit. When it happens to someone else, you can always pretend you didn’t know. How convenient for you.

    Many employers get/got away with this practice because employees have a natural reluctance to discuss their salaries. Some employers made discussing salaries and benefits a fireable offense. And for a long time, the practice wasn’t illegal. It was only after class action lawsuits in the 1970s, ’80s and 90s that these practices became illegal AND enforced.

    If you’ve been working for 50 years–please tell us your age to prove it–you worked during the ’70s, 80s and 90s–it’s highly unlikely you knew what anyone was being paid during those decades. Your career would have started in the ’60s which I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you included your boyhood and teenage years. So you have no point of comparison on which to say that it never happened.

    The first thing you conservative whack-jobs do when confronted with information that challenges your world-view is to yell ‘liberal!’ and ‘lies!’. It’s an old routine, a boring one, and it’s only your unsubstantiated opinion. Why are you so full of shit? Come up with something new already and listen to one who has been there–a woman.

  4. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Went to work in 1954 at cafeteria. both waitresses and bus boys paid the same. waitresses got tips. Graduated from pharmacy school in 62 but worked at college in meal jobs. All staff paid same. worked at pharmacies in Madison, all clerks paid same. Got pharmacy jobs, not many women them but they were paid same. Bought pharmacy in ’64 paid all employees same if same duties. Went to work for WalMart in 1989, all staff if duties same. That way all way through Walgreens when I retired. have never worked anywhere where there were two pay levels different ofr sexes.

  5. AG says:

    Oh this is fun! Here’s a quick run down of those reasons:

    The supposed 70-cents on the dollar figure is national, so that doesn’t explain why % of women working is higher in WI.

    Gender is a protected category for wage earners. Nothing the state did removes the rights a woman would have to sue for discrimination.

    Many women are not teachers and collectively saved millions of dollars in potential taxes and/or may now have a job if it were not for ACT10. Thank you ACT10.

    Since Wisconsin doesn’t actually follow the country in job and earnings growth, and if so not by that much, I guess women don’t have as much to worry about regarding being the sole wage earner. Luckily unemployment is at its lowest point since the recession.

    Thanks to record low unemployment the job prospects for finding a job for their children right out of college is the best its been in years. Unfortunately because of the liberal controlled University system the costs have been skyrocketing for years and tuition leaves college grads with record high debt.

    Some women have gained badgercare thanks to Walkers ingenious idea to move some people to obamacare who will get subsidies which opens badgercare to more types of low income residents than ever before.

    Wow, Nursing homes, hospitals, and palliative care are really expensive! Um… that’s all I have to say about that. It’s true.

    Minnesota has even more women working than WI in many of it’s counties. They um… uh… must be working because they are too poor to move to WI!

    Canada is lovely.

    But all of these reasons lead me to believe that “Working Woman” believes women working is a bad thing. Maybe… just maybe, a new generation of women in WI value working and would rather be working than not. Whatever their choice, and any man’s… good for them.

  6. PMD says:

    Scott Walker loves women. For cryin’ out loud people, his own wife is a woman! That’s why he repealed the state’s Equal Pay Protection Act, because he loves women so much. Like the Rhodes Scholar Glenn Grothman said, money is simply more important to a man. Walker knows that, too.

  7. PMD says:

    Equal Pay Enforcement Act. My mistake. I am also a Rhodes Scholar.

  8. Gee says:

    As ever, history matters — except, too often, to media. Not that the NYT need conduct microhistory on each state, but media in Wisconsin localizing this story could do so. A look in couple of local history books (admittedly, most do not include much on women in Wisconsin’s past, as a topic of analysis) tells us that Wisconsin has had more working women than most states for more than a century. So, the answer as to why this was so — in the late 19th century, perhaps the ethnic groups that immigrated into its major cities then? — may inform us as to factors for why this is still so. Also of use may be correlational factors, then and now, such as that Wisconsin long has lagged and continues to lag in women’s educational attainment, which was and is below national norms. (See, for a good source on this and other clues, the landmark Status of Women in Wisconsin Report issued in 2000 and updated since — and it shows, contrary to some claims here, that Wisconsin also lags behind the country in women’s pay in the cents-on-the-male-dollar comparison.) Do women without college have to work more, or longer, to compensate for lower pay and income levels, owing to their lower educational levels? I don’t know, but good reporters could find out who to ask to get us some answers that could provide information of significance to economic progress for this state — since, after all, and also as always, women are the majority of Wisconsinites. And when the majority of a state’s population is behind national norms in educational levels and income levels, that means lower income-revenue levels and other reasons why, no matter how hard we work in Wisconsin, we are not getting ahead of surrounding states.

  9. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    wisconsin has more working owmen cause they came from a stock of people that worked, farms during war and never stopped.

  10. Gee says:

    Wis Con Dig, which war? If you mean the myth that WWII got women into the workplace, please reread that history matters, — that a significant number of women, in the state and across the county, have been in the workplace for centuries.

    And it’s not just about farms, because women have been in factories from the beginning; indeed, where factories began, on the East Coast, women were specifically recruited — for their willingness to take lower pay than men — and, indeed, women in those first factories in the East led the first industrial strike in this land. And in Wisconsin, women were a significant part of the workforce in the first factories here, too, in the 19th century — so significant that the state also was among the states with the highest percentage of women workers then, too.

    Perhaps the same reason that led factory owners in the East to recruit women was the reason in Wisconsin: that women would take lower pay than men then, when women had few other options. And in a state that continues to be below the national norms in women’s education as well as women’s income, perhaps that remains a significant factor here.

    Context, Wis Con Dig. Context, uber alles.

  11. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What a bunch of crappy crap crap!!! Every place I have ever worked has paid women and men the same across the state last 50 years.

  12. Gee says:

    History is crap? Well, those who do not know the past are destined to look dumb. It’s in the Wisconsin history books, Wis Con Dig. Get off the computer, get to your library, read and learn.

  13. Working Woman says:

    Gee, the only history that really counts is Wis Con’s personal experience. If it didn’t happen in his view, it couldn’t possibly have happened at all, to anyone, anywhere, ever.

  14. Working Woman says:

    Take it from a Working Woman who has worked not for 50 years, but for 48, including teen years and even before that, babysitting my own siblings and the children of a many families in my small town, employers can find creative ways to pay women differently or treat them differently, no matter the employment environment. A lot of it stems from the attitude of (usually male) employers that men need the money more to support their families. When I waited tables, we were all paid the same hourly rate–well under minimum wage, of course. But when I graduated from college and worked in a business setting, gender discrimination was all around. Some of it can’t be repeated in this family blog. For you to assert, over and over, in increasing numbers of exclamation points, that gender discrimination in pay and working conditions simply didn’t happen in the years you’ve been working: the ’60s thru the ’90s, particularly and even now in the Age of Enlightenment, ahem, is where the real pile of crappy, crap, crap lies, steaming away.
    How do you account for Glenn Grothman saying that women don’t need as much money as men? Or Todd Aikin telling us there is such a thing as “real rape” for which our bodies repel pregnancy?

  15. Working Woman says:

    I also wanted to mention that your characterization of women going to work on farms and never going back is insulting, both women and farmers. Farm women have ALWAYS worked, right alongside the men, or sometimes as in war, by themselves.
    Farming is a back-breaking, 24-7-365 full time job. And then at the “end” of that day, they kept up the responsibility of cooking, canning, baking, raising kids, laundry, cleaning, maintaining the kitchen garden, mowing, and making sure everyone was spit-shined for church on Sunday.

  16. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What idiots, I was raised around farms all my life, own one. Farmers and their wive have left farming by the droves the last 40 years or so plus most farms stopped raising cows, chickens, pigs, cash their crops and work in the city or someplace where they can get bennies. I still ahve callusues from loading hay wagons, running the rakes tossing hay out of the mow, slopping the pigs.

  17. Working Woman says:

    Wis Con said: “wisconsin has more working owmen cause they came from a stock of people that worked, farms during war and never stopped.” I responded that women have been working on farms since time immemorial. What does the demise of the family farm have to do with any of that?

    As soon as anyone presents a fact contradictory to your opinion, or points out a flaw in your logic, you resort to name-calling and all that crappy, crap, crap.

    Why don’t you stick to the subject?

  18. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Buzz off Biddie. Our family came here in 1856, homesteaded in Maribel, 40 acres, cleared the land then got 40 more acres. Lived in log home just torn down a few years ago, no inside plumbing till the 50’s farmed with horses all through the 50’s. The women worked all day till dark except Sunday. They all worked, my mother worked till she was 70. They know work cause the stock in this state came from Europe. They didnt take food stamps, welfare, they worked as the rest of those that came her and always worked.
    Then a lot of black families came from south during the war to work in war factories, they worked as do the Hispanics that come here. I worked in field picking beans with the Mexican families. That is why our women work cause that is the kind of people that they are.

  19. Working Woman says:

    You finally made it back to the original subject, somewhat. Congratulations.

    But as usual, you have more than a few things wrong:

    Are Europeans the only “stock” that knows hard work? What about African slaves, who probably worked harder than anyone else at the time, and did their work under threat of death and break-up of their families, for free. It’s safe to say that ALL of our early settler ancestors worked very hard, or they would’t have survived to pass their hard-working DNA on to us, their descendants.

    Public assistance didn’t begin until the ’30s when the New Deal was passed and then it was given in the form of a job–cutting roads and trails in our national and state parks, road and bridge construction, institutional infrastructure–not a handout but a job that provided a measure of self respect because more than anything, people wanted to work. Social security was provided for the elderly and disabled. Not every 70-year old is able to work, esp on a farm. Many 50 and 60 year olds have difficulty keeping up with physically demanding jobs. Did either of your parents or older siblings accept social security?

    Food stamps didn’t come along until the 1960s–well after your examples from the 1950s and the nineteenth century.

    My point is–and was from the first comment I made on this blog–that ALL of our ancestors worked hard or they wouldn’t have survived. In today’s economic reality, it’s possible to work harder than ever, with 2 and 3 jobs, and still not be able to make ends meet, support families, or set anything aside for the future. And sad to say–altho this will upset your narrow little view of things–SOME of this (NOT ALL, don’t freak out) is due to racial, gender, educational, or economic disparities unnoticed by those with privilege. Again, back to my original point, when you have all the advantages, it’s hard to pay attention to those who do not, and it starts to rot your thinking a little that you deserve what you have, you’ve earned it, and people who don’t have it are therefore less deserving.

  20. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What ever you are talking about is beyond me. Women in this state work, always have, so what?

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us