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Dads Outearn Moms in Every State

Photograph by Getty Images

No, it's not your imagination: Being a full-time, working mom isn't as lucrative as being a working dad. The motherhood pay gap is real. Studies have shown it, and we moms have known it.

The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) has just released a map showing how the salaries of full-time working moms with at least one kid at home compare to dads' pay in each U.S. state —and it isn't encouraging. Moms working full time outside of the home and year-round "typically make 70 cents for every dollar paid to fathers," says NWLC. It varies by state with some areas showing a larger pay gap than others. For example, in Louisiana, which has the largest pay gap, moms' median annual salary is $32,000 compared to $55,000 for dads. In Washington, D.C., which has the smallest gap, working moms make 90 cents to the dollar, or $72,000 to dad's $80,000.

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And let's not forget the existing pay gap for all working women, not just moms. We typically make 78 cents to every dollar a man does. Women of color and single women have even larger wage gaps.

You can click to the full interactive pay gap map, which is based on the American Community Survey, an annual Census Bureau study that surveys a portion of the population, below.

I was surprised to learn that my native state of Maine has the third lowest gap (20 cents), while my current home of New Jersey, a seemingly more metropolitan, wealthy and diverse state, has one of the highest gaps—mothers make just 66.7 cents for every dollar a dad makes, or $25,000 less annually! What gives?

Given that women make up about two-thirds of the nation's minimum wage workers, according to NWLC, a state's minimum wage can have a real impact on women's pay. Washington, D.C.'s minimum wage is $9.50 and rising to nearly $12 over the next year. But Maine's minimum wage is a dismal $7.50 (Thank you Gov. Paul LePage for your veto), so why is its gap so much lower than New Jersey, which now has an hourly minimum of $8.38 after two raises over the last two years? (New Jersey voters overrode a Gov. Chris Christie veto with a constitutional amendment to approve their wage hike.)

Education levels could be a factor, too. More women than men hold a Bachelor's degree in Maine, while the reverse is true in New Jersey. Could this be it?

What about occupations? In both states, the office and administrative support occupations employ the most people, followed by sales and related occupations, according to Labor Department data. But this reflects the national trend where these two sectors are also the top two occupations for the U.S. as a whole, so it doesn't tell us much.

Should we mention we might become pregnant in the next year? Ask if there's a place to pump breast milk? Ask about sick days given our kids' germ collecting habit?

Kate Gallagher Robbins, director of research and policy analysis at NWLC, says your profession can of course play a role. For example, in Louisiana the large pay disparity could be due to the dominance of the energy industry, which pays well but employs more men than woman. Robbins guessed that the pay gaps of my two home states might vary simply because Maine's salaries were lower overall compared to New Jersey, meaning there's less room for a wider gap.

"The typical median earnings for dads in Maine are lower than they are for moms in New Jersey," she says.

Besides, researchers have found that the wage gap persists across occupations, industries and education levels. So that leaves the thing moms worry about when applying for or just starting a job, or asking for well, anything in the workplace. Should we mention we might become pregnant in the next year? Ask if there's a place to pump breast milk? Ask about sick days given our kids' germ-collecting habit? Yep, discrimination, otherwise known as the "motherhood penalty."

"The wage gap overall is bad enough when you compare all women to all men but it's definitely worse when you compare moms and dads," Robbins told me. "It's not an equal playing field. The discrimination that mothers face in the workplace … There's really a double standard for moms and dads."

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This double standard played out in my own home last year when my husband was interviewing for a new job. I was VERY PREGNANT with our second child and he wanted to be sure his prospective employers knew it. Family, after all, is important to him. He works extremely hard, but wanted an employer that understood he would also be spending time with his kids even if that meant leaving work early (some days) to make it back for daycare pickup and hopping on the laptop after baby bedtime.

My head whipped around and my eyes bulged out of their sockets. Was he insane? "What? You will do no such thing," I sputtered. "Don't tell them you're going to need any special accommodation at all!" And then I realized: Wait, it's different for him.

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