In 2017, Chicago Area Women Earned 78% Of What Men Made A new Chicago Foundation for Women report put the Chicago area's average gender pay gap in 2017 at $280 a week, or $14,000 for the year.
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NPR logo In 2017, Chicago Area Women Earned 78% Of What Men Made

In 2017, Chicago Area Women Earned 78% Of What Men Made

A mural by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh in Chicago's Wabash Arts Corridor. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ hide caption

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Women in the Chicago region fare well in politics and educational attainment but a gender equity gap in pay remains an issue. And that pay gap is costing the region billions of dollars, according to a report released Wednesday by the Chicago Foundation for Women.

"I expected to see more gender equity in other areas," said Felicia Davis, president/CEO of the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW). "Women's participation in the workforce increases, but they continue to be paid less than men."

With data analysis from the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University, the CFW report showed that women were paid, on average, about 78% of what men earned in 2017, resulting in a pay gap of $280 a week, or $14,000 for the year.

"Contributors to this gap include women's underrepresentation in high-paying fields, women taking time off for unpaid care work, lack of women in high-paying leadership roles, and the motherhood penalty. The wage gap is larger for women of color," the report stated.

Davis said if the Chicago region had better gender parity, it would grow the region's gross domestic product by $58 billion.

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"That $58 billion would be money that these women earn, that they could invest in their families. They could do things they're not doing right now like homeownership and starting savings accounts putting away for kids," Davis said. "All of those things women are piecing together — if they were paid, those additional dollars would lift the Chicago region. We all have a vested interest to make sure the city pushes and advances on gender parity."

Workforce participation varies by race

And the report's breakdown of labor force participation by race also highlights gender gaps.

"White men in Chicago work at the highest rates, with the greatest disparity between white men and women of color," the report stated. "Chicago's Latinx community sees the largest gap between women and men. Women in the workforce in Illinois continue to be shortchanged."

The report showed that black women work at slightly higher rates than black men. Black women were the only group of women to work at rates equaling or exceeding their male counterparts.

Examining race, gender, and violence

The report noted differences in the ways that men and women are victims of violence — and the levels of violence experienced by women of color.

"The vast racial and ethnic disparities point to an epidemic of violence against women of color," the report stated.

While women don't make up the majority of homicide victims in Chicago, they experience other forms of violence. The Chicago Police Department recorded more than 7,000 violent crimes against women in 2017, according to the report.

"Women of color — especially Black women — are disproportionately the victims of violent crimes," the report stated. "Black women made up 77% of female murder victims, 80% of human trafficking survivors, 53% of rape survivors, and 76% of assault and battery survivors."

Representation in government leadership

The report is linked to 100% Project, a CFW initiative to achieve gender parity in the Chicago region in a generation. It's an update to the foundation's original 2016 report.

The report released Wednesday noted an improving share of women holding state legislative offices from 2016 to 2017. The report also noted that in the top city and Cook County government positions, women of color are in charge.

Davis acknowledges that a report can't measure whether having women in political office improves parity.

"But we have other indicators. When women are in positions of leadership, they do tend to make policies that are more welcoming and more inclusive," Davis said.

She points to the cadre of female state lawmakers who are credited with ushering in cannabis legalization in Illinois with a strong social equity core.

Natalie Moore is WBEZ's South Side reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.

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