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Secretary of State report finds pay inequities persist in Oregon pay despite equity law, raises


Despite a 2017 pay equity law, two studies of the state payroll and two rounds of equity raises, women and people of color working for the state of Oregon still earn far less than white men, according to a report released Tuesday.

An analysis by the Secretary of State’s Audits Division compared a 2015 Portland State University salary study with the state’s payroll in 2022. It found that the pay gap for women remained the same over that period, while people of color earned less in 2022 compared to white men than they did in 2015. In both years, women working for the state earned 83 cents in base pay compared to $1 for white men.

For people of color, the equity gap actually grew over those seven years. In 2015, people of color working for the state earned 91 cents in base pay compared with $1 for white men. By 2022, people of color earned even less: 88 cents in base pay compared with $1 for white men.

“Oregon must do more to close persistent wage gaps for women and people of color in state government,” Ian Green, an audit manager with the Secretary of State’s Office, said in an online news conference.

The agency released the report on Tuesday because March 14 is Equal Pay Day. The study only looked at state salaries. It did not compare wage gaps in the private sector.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed an equal pay bill to narrow inequities. The law applies to the state and private sector but excludes federal agencies. The law makes it illegal for employers to ask applicants about their salary history and stated that employee compensation should be based on factors such as education, training and experience. The law also opened the door for employee lawsuits against their employer over unequal pay.

That law has affected starting state salaries, auditors found.

“(The state) no longer relies on an employee’s prior salary history, and salaries are now based on experience and education, among other factors,” Green said.

In a follow-up, the state analyzed pay in 2019 for 33,000 employees under the executive branch and issued pay raises to narrow gaps. It did the same in 2022 after analyzing the salaries of more than 40,000 employees.

The report states that those raises had an impact.

“On the individual level, these adjustments closed pay gaps between employees and their peers,” the report said, adding: “In some cases, wage gaps have closed; in other cases, these gaps have expanded.”

Employees of color still earn much less than white people in protective services and technician roles, while women earn less in protective services and maintenance jobs, the report found. But when raises were being handed out, white employees still received more money.

“On average, we found white employees received the largest pay adjustments in 2019 and 2022, while people of color received the smallest,” the report said.

That means state efforts have failed to change the status quo.

“The effects of years of systemic racism curbing learning opportunities and experience for women and people of color is largely to blame,” the report said. “Experience and seniority appear to be a contributing factor to the wage gaps among state employees. The data shows the state’s pay equity adjustments are not sufficiently addressing some of the root causes behind existing inequities.”

Unequal pay has a huge impact over time, Green said.

“For example, a woman would need to work nearly 44 years to earn the same amount a man earns in 30 years based on the average wage gap since 1960,” Green said.

The report did not find that any state agencies had failed to follow the 2017 law. And it did note progress on the demographic front, especially with the hiring of more women.

“State employees are more likely to be female than the general population. Women made up approximately 55% of the state workforce, but only represent about 50% of the population,” the report said.

More people of color were hired as well, but they still make up less than a quarter of the state workforce, the report found.

The report called on the Legislature to order yet another study – this time of the implementation of the Pay Equity Bill – and to consider potential legislation to address equity gaps.

It said the Department of Administrative Services should review “pay equity processes to determine the causes of systemic wage gaps in state government and if adjustments are needed for future rounds of pay equity studies.”

Those adjustments could focus on education and culture, the report said.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

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Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.