By Bill Estep | Lexington Herald-Leader

Women working full time in Kentucky were paid 82 cents for every $1 that men working full time made in 2015, according to a study released Monday.

The gap in median annual income for women and men held true across the state but varied by region.

The gap was narrowest in the 3rd Congressional District in Louisville, where the median annual income for women working full time, year-round was 85 percent of what men made, according to the analysis of U.S. Census data by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

“This analysis shows just how damaging that lost income can be for women and their families, as well as the economy and the businesses that depend on women’s purchasing power,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership.

The organization released its study in advance of Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, which marks how far into the new year women have to work – combined with their pay the year before — to earn what men made the year before.

The gap was the widest in Western Kentucky’s 1st District, where women made 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. In other areas of the state, women fell short by 20 cents on the dollar in the 2nd District; 21 cents in the 4th District; 25 cents in the 5th District in Eastern and Southern Kentucky; and 18 cents in the 6th District, which covers Lexington and Central Kentucky.

Overall, the gender pay gap was not as wide in Kentucky as in many other states and the nation, the report said.

Kentucky ranked 16 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in the pay disparity between men and women, the study said.

The pay gap was lowest in New York, where women made 89 percent of what men made, and highest in Wyoming, where women made 64 cents on the dollar compared to men.

The national average was 80 cents.

Black women made 63 cents on the dollar nationally compared to men and Latina women just 54 cents, the study said.

The National Partnership said in a news release that if there were no wage gap in Kentucky, women would have enough additional money for 13 more months of childcare and almost a year’s worth of tuition and fees at a four-year college.

That’s noteworthy because there are 218,000 households in Kentucky headed by women, and 36 percent are below the poverty line, the organization said.

The National Partnership favors a number of measures to improve pay and working conditions for women, including one that would require employers to prove that pay disparities were based on legitimate, job-related reasons and make it easier to prove discrimination, and another to require paid family and medical leave for workers dealing with serious health conditions, including childbirth, or while caring for a sick family member.

There are critics of such wage-gap findings.

Women and the wage gap | National Partnership for Women and Families

For instance, Mark J. Perry, identified as a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Monday in a commentary on the conservative think tank’s website that claims about women having to work four months longer than men to achieve equal pay are “statistical fairy tales.”

Such findings are based on false assumptions that women make 20 percent less doing exactly the same work in the same jobs alongside men, without controlling for factors such as varying numbers of hours worked, marital status, education, occupation, children and uninterrupted years of service, Perry said.

The reality is the 20 percent gap only shows up in comparing raw, aggregate, unadjusted full-time median salaries without considering other factors, Perry wrote.

However, other groups publish similar findings.

The Pew Research Center said in an article posted Monday that while the gender pay gap has narrowed since 1980, especially among younger workers, in 2015 women earned 83 percent of what men earned in an analysis of median hourly earnings of full-time and part-time workers.

Pew used a slightly different method than the National Partnership, but the result was similar.

Based on the findings, it would take women an extra 44 days of work to earn what men did in 2015, Pew said.

The article also pointed to a U.S. Census study that said in 2015 women earned 80 percent of what men did when looking at full-time, year-round workers only.

Sarah Fleisch-Fink, senior counsel at the National Partnership, said the organization’s method of comparing the median earnings of all male and female workers is a valid way to illustrate the pay gap.

Pew cited a number of factors on why the gender pay gap persists. One survey found that four in 10 mothers said they had taken time off from a job or cut their hours to care for a child or family member.

Those interruptions can have an impact on earnings, and fewer men said they had done something similar, Pew said.

On another front, women as a whole continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying jobs, which may also contribute to pay gap, the research service said.

Discrimination may also play a role, Pew said.

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