Best state in America: Hawaii, where women have more parity in pay and politics

Washington Post. Posted by Reid Wilson on October 02, 2014
 

Reid Wilson is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tipsheet on politics. If you have a candidate for best state, e-mail him at reid.wilson@washpost.com.

The pay gap between men and women remains wide. Elected officials are still overwhelmingly male. Progress in reversing those deficits has been slow, but one state — Hawaii — stands out.

Several studies of political and economic power show that women are nearer to parity with their male counterparts in Hawaii than they are in other states.

Women make 83 percent of what men earn in Hawaii, just two percentage points below Maryland, the state with the smallest gender pay gap. Women in Nevada, Vermont, New York, California, Florida and Maine also make at least 83 percent of what men do, according to a study published this year by the American Association of University Women. At the top of the list is the District, where women’s median earnings are 90 percent of men’s.

Hawaii is also one of 14 states where women are more likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree than men; 29.7 percent of women in the Aloha State graduated from college, compared with 28.9 percent of men, according to the National Center for Education Statistics .

Women make up a substantial portion of Hawaii’s elected officials, too. The state ranks third for gender parity in statewide political officeholders, according to Representation 2020 , a group that works to raise awareness about the underrepresentation of women in government. Only New Hampshire and Washington rank higher.

Hawaii has a long history of electing women to high office. Linda Lingle (R) served two terms as governor, from 2002 to 2010, and Mazie Hirono (D) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Of the 13 people who have represented Hawaii in the House of Representatives since it became a state in 1959, five — including both current incumbents — have been women.

The presence of so many women in office and in party leadership positions can lead more women to seek election, said Cynthia Terrell, who runs Representation 2020. “We’re looking to find more ‘queenmakers’ to join the kingmakers,” she said.

Southern states are far less likely to be governed by women, according to Representation 2020’s count. Virginia, which ranks last on the group’s list, has an astonishingly bad record: Just one woman has been elected to a statewide executive office — Mary Sue Terry, who served as attorney general from 1986 to 1993 — and only three have represented the commonwealth in Congress.

The 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920. Ninety-four years later, the last state to join the union is doing better than any other to ensure that women have an equal seat at the table.

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