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Economist Sean Snaith says education continues to impact wage gap in Florida

Equal Pay Day represents how far into the year woman have to work to make what their male colleagues earned the previous year.
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Wage on calculator.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the annual gender wage gap in Florida is just over $9,000. But University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Forecasting Director Sean Snaith tells WMFE's Talia Blake that the real problem is with the quality of education people are getting, not gender.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

Sean Snaith is the director at the Institute for Economic Forecasting at the University of Central Florida.
Sean Snaith is the director at the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Forecasting

Gender Mix and Pay Gap

Across the U.S, March 14 is Equal Pay Day, symbolizing how far into the year woman have to work in order to make what their male colleagues earned the previous year.

The National Partnership for Women and Familiesreports that the annual gender wage gap in Florida is $9,240.

But UCF economist Sean Snaith said that data can sometimes be distorted.

"When you sort of aggregate over different types of jobs and careers by sex, you can get something that may show a gender gap, but may really be reflecting the different gender mixes in different types of careers."

For example, Zippia reports that 92% of early childhood teachers are women. "And those tend not to be high paying jobs," Snaith said.

When trying to asses gender based pay gap, Snaith said you have to compare people doing the same job with similar backgrounds in terms of education and experience. "And I think, studies that are far more disaggregated in that way, that gender gap tends to be pretty small."

It starts with education

Snaith said one big factor that plays into the pay gap is education. "I think the problem is more socio economic, in the sense that if you're born into a poor family, and you live in a poor neighborhood, you're likely to be going to a low performing school."

Conversations involving the pay gap often include equity versus equality.

To put it simply, Snaith said equity is about the outcome and equality is about opportunities.

"All these children, races, genders, should have the same access to the same quality of education. And I think that's not true. And that, I think, continues the cycle of poverty in some of our communities"

Can Florida's increasing minimum wage help close the gap?

Probably not. Snaith said the market wage is higher than the current minimum wage.

"In any fast food restaurant, a young kid with zero job experience can walk in and start at $12 or $13 an hour. So the market has rendered that amendment, really moot at this point."

In November 2020, voters approved changes to the state's minimum wage increasing it by one dollar a year until it reaches $15 in 2026.

The current minimum wage in Florida is $11/hour.

"So the minimum wage, if it's set above the market wage, then that has some effects. But if the minimum wage is below what the market pays, then it's as if there's no minimum wage law at all."

Cost and Benefits

Closing the pay gap benefits not only women, but the economy as a whole.

"The bottom line is more human capital, more skills, [and] more education translates into more economic output," said Snaith.

But, he said if the pay gap is closed by force of legislative action, that could come at a cost.

"Market economies are not perfect. And every attempt to use an alternative system of resource allocation has led to outcomes that are far worse than what we see in primarily free market economies."

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.
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