Labor Day is a time to celebrate workers.
But one half of Georgia’s labor force is underutilized and underpaid, according to a new report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
The state could add $14.4 billion to its economy if all working women earned the same pay as men in similar locations, positions, age range, educational level and hours worked, the report found.
In spotlighting economic opportunities for women based on census figures and other research data, the GBPI notes that poverty among Georgia’s working women could fall by half if women earned the same as men in comparable circumstances.
“I think those statistics are reflective of the general mindset culturally and indicative of the fact that they exist,” said Dr. Raquel Jones, a vascular surgeon at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville.
Those numbers are made more striking by the fact that the share of women in the state’s workforce has risen to 48 percent today from 39 percent in 1970.
For Kelley Belair, department manager in Longstreet’s vascular and vein division, the health care field has long been more conducive to women workers.
That’s why the CEOs at both Longstreet and the Northeast Georgia Health System in Gainesville, for example, are women, Belair said.
And working for women leaders brings a different dynamic to the job.
Jones, for example, said she is less likely to see reluctance about her skills and experience from female colleagues, leaders and patients.
“Even little things like you’re too small to be a surgeon, I don’t really get that so much,” she said. ‘It’s more like go-get-em.”
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C., 52 percent of Georgia families have women as breadwinners (which is defined as either the sole provider, or earning at least 40 percent of the family income).
But the pay gap between women and men remains an obstacle.
According to the GBPI report, women in Georgia earn an average of $36,000 annually compared with $44,000 for men.
And the median earnings for women are just 70 percent of the average earnings for white men.
But that’s not due to lower educational achievement.
In 2014, for example, 60 percent of Georgia women had acquired some college education, compared with 55 percent of men.
And more women had earned bachelor’s degrees.
One caveat: Women are more likely to work part-time.
But, according to the GBPI, that could be attributed to disproportionate child care responsibilities.
And that’s something Jones said all women in the workforce continue to face.
“One of the deterrents is the work-life balance, and trying to break those stereotypes and expectations that women are always to be the ones cleaning the house and taking care of the kids,” Jones said. “Those gender roles are still in play.”