The nation's weekly wages rose 2.4 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, but that didn't erase big income gaps between male and female factory workers and managers, according to a government report released Wednesday.
American wages and salaries rose to $771 per week during the quarter. But female plant workers made just $505 a week, compared with the $716 earned by men, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Wage disparities on the state level are not yet available.
The disparity in management wages for all industries were even broader, showing men earning $1,342 a week compared with women who earned $945 a week.
Across all sectors and occupations, the report found that "women who usually worked full time had median weekly earnings of $689 or 79.7 percent of the $865 median [wage] for men."
Upon learning the results, Oriane Casale, assistant director for Minnesota's Labor Market Information Office, said "Wow, that is a big jump," and noted that the gender wage gaps were large.
Some of the national gender gaps have to do with the recession, she said. While male factory workers lost ground early in the recession, manufacturing, especially of durable goods like washing machines and cars, is "coming back like gangbusters." That has benefited men.
By contrast, more women lost ground later in the recession when layoffs spread to sectors such as law firms, schools, and hospitals, Casale said.
But on the national front, the manufacturing industry provided a host of possible reasons for wage disparities. Casale noted that men and women often hold different jobs within specific manufacturing companies, and that can affect pay.
For example, metal manufacturers tend to require higher skills, pay more and are heavily represented by male workers. But chicken processing, canning and other food processing plants have a more balanced gender mix, lower skill requirements and many more female workers.
Another ingredient contributing to wage gaps has to do with age and experience, Casale said. "If you have an older, male workforce versus a younger, female workforce you could see some wage differences there" simply because more experienced workers tend to be paid more.
Other economists noted that Wednesday's report showed that wages were rising faster than inflation. Wages for all workers climbed 2.4 percent, compared with a 1.9 percent rise in the urban consumer price index.