Pay Falls for Men Earning Low Wages, Yet Women Far Behind

Over the past 35 years, wages for Michigan’s lowest-paid workers have plummeted (men) or stagnated (women), while wages for the highest-paid workers have increased substantially. Disparity in wage growth – with increases for a relatively small sector of the workforce and declines or stagnation for the vast majority – is one of the most important factors influencing the shrinking of the middle class and the faltering of living standards in the country.

Michigan women have higher rates of postsecondary degrees than their male counterparts, and their wages have increased over the years (particularly for higher-earning women). Yet, Michigan’s gender wage gap is the seventh highest in the country. Women of color and high-earning women are particularly affected.

While in Michigan, men’s earnings fared poorly for the most part and the earnings of women increased only modestly, wage trends in Minnesota tell a different story. Since 1979, median wages decreased only slightly for Minnesota men, and increased substantially for women.

The dramatic differences in wage trends seen in Michigan and Minnesota are in part the result of deindustrialization, which hurt Michigan more than Minnesota. However, these are also the result of different tax and spending strategies: While Michigan has a low flat personal income tax rate and has struggled to adequately fund its public schools, Minnesota is a “tax and spend” state that taxes its wealthy residents at a higher rate and spends more in the education of its workforce. This strategy has helped Minnesota grow its share of the knowledgebased job sector, which pays middle-class wages, much more substantially than Michigan.