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Inside St. Pete’s push for equal pay

Mark Parker



Business and Professional Women of St. Pete-Pinellas commemorate Equal Pay Day at Webb's City Cellar by Green Bench Brewery Tuesday. Photos by Mark Parker.

A recent study highlighted how St. Petersburg’s gender wage gap is well below the national average and has decreased by nearly 6% over the past four years.

However, 60 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, female workers still make less than their male counterparts to perform the same jobs. That fact, and several other harrowing statistics, was part of Mayor Ken Welch’s proclamation recognizing March 14 as Equal Pay Day in St. Petersburg.

Councilmember Gina Driscoll read the document Tuesday at the Business and Professional Women (BPW) of St. Petersburg-Pinellas’ 20th annual “Unhappy Hour.” The event was in observation of national Equal Pay Day, established by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996.

Equal Pay Day occurs on a Tuesday in March every year. According to the Census Bureau, it “symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.”

For many, the day is an annual reminder of how long the problem has persisted.

“In my lifetime, I fully expect to see that women will be paid on par with men,” Driscoll said. “Because it is 2023, for crying out loud. It’s time.”

St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll read a proclamation by Mayor Ken Welch.

Unlike most areas throughout the U.S., St. Pete has made progress. Financial information platform SmartAsset analyzed data across four metrics from the nation’s 200 largest cities and ranked St. Petersburg among the 25 places where the gender wage gap is shrinking.

According to the study, female workers in St. Pete now earn 91.3 cents for every dollar men receive. That is a 5.88% increase since 2019, good enough to rank 24th.

Nationally, women made 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tami Simms, president of the local BPS affiliate, credited the city’s culture for its improvement.

She said her organization, founded in 1965, would not exist and have events like Tuesdays without public support from local leaders. Pinellas County Commissioners also issued a formal proclamation recognizing Equal Pay Day.

“St. Pete is the kind of place where everybody wants everybody to succeed,” Simms said.

That underscores the importance of “drawing attention to the fact that there are some instances where people – even inadvertently – are contributing to a wage disparity that’s by industry or just historical provenance.”

Men often receive raises and promotions by participating in the “old boys club,” as Simms and many others call the golf outings and lunches among predominantly male colleagues. She encourages corporate leadership to expand those opportunities.

Simms would also like to see more female workers gain the confidence needed to negotiate raises and share wage information with each other. Discussing salaries is typically forbidden in the workplace, and she said that “absolutely” contributes to discrepancies.

“There are plenty of people who are being paid more and probably have no idea,” Simms added. “And who would be appalled at being on the opposite side of the wage gap.”

Tami Simms, president of the local BPW affiliate, credited St. Pete’s leadership and culture for helping reduce the gender wage gap.

St. Petersburg’s improvement is an unfortunate outlier compared to national trends.

Pew Research Center analysis shows the national wage gap has only decreased by two cents in the last 20 years. The discrepancy is exponentially worse among minority groups.

While female Pacific Islanders earn 92 cents for every male dollar, Black women receive 67 cents, and Native American and Latino women make just 57 cents for performing the same jobs. Driscoll read Welch’s proclamation, which noted that those statistics account for variables like hours worked and college majors.

In addition, the document stated that four out of 10 mothers are primary household earners. Two out of three households significantly rely on the mother’s salary, “making pay equity critical to families’ economic security.”

“A lifetime of lower pay means women have less income to save for retirement and less income counted in Social Security and pension benefit formulas,” Driscoll relayed.

SmartAsset reported that the gender gap has widened in the nation’s 10 largest cities. Women in San Antonio, Texas, went from earning 91 cents for every male dollar to 82 cents over the past four years.

There is progress.

Women earn more than men in Hollywood, Florida; Oakland, California and Springfield, Massachusetts. Three other cities have near identical pay scales, and the wage gap decreased by over 10 cents in 16 areas.

St. Pete’s female workforce now earns 26.55% more than it did in 2018. However, women in Tampa have not fared as well as their counterparts across the bay.

SmartAsset ranked the city 116th out of 200, with female workers earning 83.4 cents for every male dollar. That represents a 2.55% decrease over the past four years.

Simms expressed her support for regionality and sharing strengths and assets, but said “there is something about ‘the Burg’ that is just special.”

“There are people who want to foster everybody’s success,” Simms said. “And lots of people working really hard behind the scenes to make this a city of opportunity with healthy growth, and one that is welcoming to all.”

For more information on BPS St. Pete-Pinellas, visit the website here.




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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Barry Toll

    March 16, 2023at1:12 pm

    I find the disparity between genders in wages, barbaric indicia, directly attributable to our dominated business culture. This imbalance is repugnant and I wish there was a way to quantify their denied moneys, and give them lump sum rehabilitation payment.

    For Shame!

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