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Nearing equality

When the U.S. first passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women throughout the country were earning 59 cents for every dollar a male made. Today, that has increased to 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The “gender wage gap” has narrowed, but it has not vanished. A study released by personal finance information website  NerdWallet in June suggests that wage equality might actually depend on the city.

The “gender pay gap” refers to the difference in average income between men and women. According to the Department of Justice, one of the factors in women earning less than men is that there are a lack of accommodating work arrangements. This can apply to all employees, but affects more women who have dependent children.

NerdWallet analyzed 522 U.S. cities and determined the best places for women to work. Of the 522 cities, Pharr was ranked number one as the best small city for working women and Edinburg was number four.

Other cities on the list include Sandy Springs, Ga., in the second ranking, followed by Hesperia, Calif., in third.

The cities were broken down into three categories: large, medium and small. There were 61 large cities with populations of more than 300,000, 241 medium cities with populations of from 100,000 to 300,000 and 220 small cities with populations under 100,000.

NerdWallet included the median salaries for male and female full-time and year-round workers, “median gross rent,” population growth and other statistics from the Census Bureau American Community Survey. “Median gross rent” is the monthly rent agreed or contracted for in addition to the estimated monthly cost of utilities.

All the cities analyzed for the study were based on census data. UTPA Economics Professor Marie Mora was not surprised that two Valley cities made the grade list, saying that she was excited to have the area on a list of something positive for a change.

“To me what it means is that (the Valley) is a friendly place for women to work and that the same type of barriers that women might be facing in other cities might not be present here,” Mora said. “The numbers also suggest that there may be a lot of opportunities for women.”

According to the website, Pharr was placed at the top due to female employees earning 112 percent of a man’s average income. Rent was below the national average as a result of the 10 percent increase of population from 2009 to 2011. NerdWallet reported the average household median at $631 a month.

“This area is definitely one of the fastest growing cities in the entire country,” Mora said. “It’s not just in the state, so that does bode well in terms of future job opportunities.”

Pharr’s median income for full-time female employees came in at $29,189. Sandy Springs was next in the ranking with $46,432 and Hesperia with $36,880. The median income for Edinburg came in at $50,051. Edinburg was ranked in the top five because of a 12 percent increase in population since 2012, low rental costs and strong income equality between men and women. NerdWallet reported $651 as the city’s median gross rent and women’s earnings as a percentage to men’s is about 94 percent.

NerdWallet reported the numbers of working women in the U.S. has steadily increased in the past 50 years, growing from 29 percent to nearly 50 percent. In 1960, one in 10 mothers in the country were the sole or primary “breadwinner”. In 2011, that number went up to four in every 10. A “breadwinner” is a person who earns money to support a family.

“It surprises me to see how different things were just a short 50 years ago,” said Marilynn Feria, a UTPA junior political science major. “It’s amazing to think that if I had been born at a different time my life would be completely different as a woman in the workforce. Of course, I’m proud and glad that many women having been pushing to see these changes and have been striving for the opportunities and gratification of being self-sufficient.”

According to Feria, the ranking came as a surprise to her but she’s happy to see the number of women in the workforce increasing.

“It did surprise me, but in a good way,” Feria said. “These are the things that I like to see our home cities recognized for. It means that people are taking the initiative to provide equal opportunity to both sexes, especially in an area with very conservative views.”

 NerdWallet reported education, trade, transportation, health services, utilities and the government as being the industries with the biggest presence in Edinburg. The city’s largest employers are UTPA, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Hidalgo County and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corp.

Mora stated that she has never sensed negative feelings against Valley women who work at different businesses and believes it is because Edinburg is a family-friendly city.

“I’ve always believed that women are just as capable and responsible and have the same amount of vision and passion as men do for work,” Mora said. “So it never has made sense to me that women would earn less for equal work.”

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