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Dr. Manuel Pastor and Jared Sanchez of the University of Southern California (USC) Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) coauthor a report on the role and status of women in the manufacturing and transportation labor force. 

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Fig.ure 1. Women are starkly underrepresented in transportation manufacturing, especially rail.

The transportation subsector of manufacturing is particularly promising, as federal and local investment are driving new growth. Figure 1 shows that there are markedly more women in non-manufacturing sub-industries – 51 percent of that workforce is female. Within transportation, women are the least represented in the railroad rolling stock sub-industry, half of what they are in motor vehicle and aerospace jobs. This matters for two reasons. First, sub-industries like railroad rolling stock tend to pay better – the median annual wage is $45,000 while the median wage for motor vehicle equipment is $35,000. Second, it is exactly the rolling stock sub-industry which is being spurred by transit build-out across the nation.


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Figure 2. Good earnings in manufacturing, but not for women due to wage disparities

Pay disparity is one measure of how women are not benefiting at the same rate as men from the need to expand the manufacturing workforce. Figure 2 shows this to be the case for the U.S. economy at-large; it shows sharp disparities between male and female earnings. The gender pay gap is lower in transportation and warehousing; agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; and construction, but manufacturing has large disparities – women make 74 cents for every dollar men make in the industry. So, while manufacturing is known to supply well-paying jobs, women in manufacturing are not benefiting from those jobs at nearly the same rate as men.


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Figure 3. The higher average wage the less female employment in manufacturing sub-industries

Women do not tend to be well represented in the higher paying sectors within manufacturing sectors either. Figure 3 shows the percentage of female employees in an industr by the average annual earnings of women in that same industry. As can be seen, the larger the share of female employment, the lower the wage across all industries.

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Figure 4. Women are underrepresented in professional and managerial occupations

Despite earning more than half of all associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees and making up more than half of all managerial and professional positions in the U.S. across all industries, women are underrepresented in manufacturing1. Figure 4 shows that while women make up 63 percent of administrative support and clerical positions, they only make up 26 percent of executive and managerial occupations.

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Figure 5. Higher union membership means rising median earnings for women

Labor unions safeguard the manufacturing workforce. Figure 5 shows that unionization in general means higher wages for all workers. It also shows that the rate of unionization among women in manufacturing is lagging behind other industries. Although unions have long been viewed as male-dominated institutions, today women are among the greatest supporters of unions – and for good reason. Unions matter greatly when it comes to women’s wages: Research finds that unionization increases women’s wages overall by 12.9 percent or about $2.50 per hour and that this pay boost is particularly strong for women with lower levels of education. Beyond reducing the gender pay gap, unions provide avenues for female leadership and a venue for engaging workplace issues particular to women.

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