Not There Yet: The Status of Female Workers in Illinois

Female workers continue to experience inequality and discrimination in the Illinois labor market.

new Economic Commentary [PDF] by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) finds that women are overrepresented in unstable, low-paying sectors. While women make up half of the Illinois workforce, they are disproportionately concentrated in sectors that offer low wages and very little room for growth.

Illinois has, however, made some big steps towards pay equity. Female participation has increased in both higher education and professional occupations. Based on an Institute for Women’s Policy Research study, Illinois ranked 16th in the nation for female employment and earning equity. Illinois is definitely not the most unequal state, but the fact remains that Illinois women only make 79 cents on the dollar of similarly employed men. The State still has work to do.

The latest Economic Commentary reveals some stark gender differences in Illinois’ employment sectors. Using Census data, ILEPI organized every sector of the Illinois economy by stability (through the turnover rate) and income class (through average annual earnings).

The differences between male and female workers shed light on some serious job segregation. The graphs below depict the breakdown of each gender’s employment by sector. One of the most striking differences is the share of each workforce employed in the bottom three sectors: unstable middle-class, stable lower-class, and unstable lower-class. While only 44% of the male workforce is employed in these three sectors, a striking 60% of the female workforce finds themselves in low-paying or unstable occupations.

Male Female Sectors of Employment

The 20 most female-dominated and 20 least female-dominated industries are highlighted in the Economic Commentary, and the data are disheartening. Women are disproportionately employed in stereotypically “female” jobs that are found in the unstable, lower-class sectors of the economy. Women often make up 80-90% of the workforce in many care and service industries – jobs which offer relatively low wages and have relatively high turnover rates.  Conversely, women made up less than 20% of employment in many stable middle-class industries, such as transportation, construction, and manufacturing. Due to both real barriers to entry (e.g., educational opportunities, maternity) and perceived barriers to entry (e.g., jobs stereotyped as being for men or for women), women are often stuck on an unlevel playing field.

Protecting female workers and addressing the lack of women in stable middle-class sectors are important policy goals for Illinois in the effort to close the gender gap. Illinois policymakers should support the following initiatives (among others) if they wish to make Illinois a state that offers fair and equal opportunities for women to develop their economic potential:

Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Act is a prime example of an action States should take to ensure opportunities and equality for female workers. Because of its dedication to protecting and empowering women, Minnesota has earned the highest ranking in the Midwest for female employment opportunities and earnings potential.

This could just as easily have been Illinois! We need to break down structural barriers and to support women in reaching their full economic potential. We’re not quite there yet. However, with responsible legislation, we can work towards creating an economy with equal opportunity for both men and women.

  • Read the full Economic Commentary at this link.
  • Visit the Illinois Economic Policy Institute’s website.
  • Like the Illinois Economic Policy Institute on Facebook.
  • Follow the Illinois Economic Policy Institute on Twitter.


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