In Long Island government, it pays to be a man.
Women who work full time for Long Island county, town and city governments receive on average two-thirds the pay of their male counterparts, or 67 cents to every dollar, a yearlong Newsday review of payroll records for more than 31,000 workers found.
Female full-time employees of the 17 county, town and city governments on Long Island averaged $71,300 in total annual pay from 2011 to 2017, while men received $106,700, a difference of $35,400, according to Newsday’s analysis.
Excluding earnings for overtime, women received on average 73% the pay of men, a difference of $26,000.
These findings are based on a comparison of the average total pay of 19,400 men and 11,700 women employed for the equivalent of full-time hours for a full year by one of the county, town or city governments from 2011 to 2017. Newsday also conducted narrower comparisons that measured pay — both with and without overtime — of employees with similar jobs or work experience. The comparisons found:
- Women hold far fewer high-paying positions and receive less overtime pay than men — especially in police departments, where the differences are among the greatest. Excluding town, county and city police departments, the total pay gap shrinks to $17,300.
- Women make less than men who perform the same or similar work. In 50 full-time jobs held by the largest numbers of county, town and city workers, women received $4,100 less in average total pay than men doing the same or similar work. Excluding overtime, this gap was $3,700.
- Women make less than men who have similar work experience. While the data provided did not indicate how long employees had held a specific title, Newsday estimated their work experience based on when they joined the state pension system. Among workers in the 50 most prevalent full-time jobs with five years in the state pension system, for example, women received $6,500 less in average total pay than men.
- Women make less than men in each of the 17 governments studied, with total pay gaps ranging from $7,000 in North Hempstead to $50,400 in Suffolk County.
- The gap is growing. In 2011, female full-time employees of the municipal governments earned on average $33,800 less in total pay than men. The disparity widened in four of the next six years. In 2017 it was $36,000.
Researchers, union leaders and labor attorneys traced these inequities in part to the caregiving responsibilities borne largely by women, which leave them less time for their careers. Gender discrimination in the workplace also likely plays a part, they said, as do stereotypes that cast women as unfit for physical, higher-risk jobs that may pay more. The seniority accrued by men in traditionally male fields such as law enforcement has also kept the gap wide, officials said, even as more women may now seek work in those professions.
While some causes of the gender pay gap are structural, critics say others are well within the control of local government leaders, who could be doing more to combat the problem. Those critics cite a Civil Service system that they say is biased in favor of men, contract negotiations between unions and the governments that result in relatively meager salaries for jobs held mostly by women and recruitment efforts that have failed to increase the percentage of women in police departments, which include many of the most lucrative local government jobs.
To confront the pay gaps in their workforces, advocates and labor leaders say local officials should review Civil Service job titles and pay grades to ensure similar jobs are paid equitably, ramp up efforts to recruit women to high-paying jobs, increase the pay of jobs held mostly by women and offer more flexible work schedules and family leave so that parents do not have to choose between raising families and advancing their careers.
Common jobs with large pay gaps
This was the trade-off that Carolyn Corcoran made.
“I took the [Civil Service promotion] test all the way up until the time that I became a mom,” said Corcoran, a retired Suffolk County deputy sheriff investigator. Corcoran, 55, adopted a daughter as a single mother in 2006. She never took the test again.
“I didn’t want to work all different shifts and different commands,” she said. “I wanted to be home as much as I could.”
Elected leaders said their efforts to close the gap include recruiting and appointing more women to local government jobs.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called Newsday’s findings “a wake-up call.”
“We want to attract smart, intelligent women to work for the government, and we want them to stay in the workforce. Pay equity is the way to get there.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called the pay gap “offensive.”
“We clearly still need to do more,” he said.
Closing the pay gap will also require women to speak up about the issue, said Helen Ebbert, a retired Nassau County 911 call operator who led a successful class action lawsuit in 2005 against the county over gender pay discrimination.
“Women have to stop being afraid," said Ebbert, 70, of Seaford. "The minute they see something wrong, they have to say something."
Job titles, gender and choice
From 2011 to 2017, women made up more than 90% of clerk typists, stenographers and legal secretaries working in local municipal offices, according to Newsday's analysis of the payroll data. Men made up more than 90% of police lieutenants, sanitation workers and building inspectors. The male-dominated jobs typically pay tens of thousands of dollars more than the jobs held mostly by women.
As such, women composed 37% of full-time, full-year workers, but they were only 4% of those who were paid $200,000 or more and 62% of those who made $50,000 or less.
Alan Schneider, former Suffolk County Department of Civil Service personnel director, said relatively few women take Civil Service exams to be police officers, the most prevalent job title in the county government.
“It was not looked upon as a job that women went into,” Schneider said of once-common attitudes about police work. “You just didn’t see women.”
Women in lower-paying jobs
Long Island government jobs held mostly by men typically pay more than those held mostly by women. Hover for details.
Meanwhile, the county's clerical jobs attract few men, he said.
From 2011 to 2017, women made up about 12% of Suffolk police officers and 99% of senior clerk typists, the data shows.
For women who work in fields dominated by men, their minority status can present additional obstacles.
“As a woman, you have to kind of prove that you know what you’re doing and you’re good at your job, whereas with a man it’s already a given,” said Andrea Schriefer, a Nassau County Police Department paramedic, a job held mostly by men. “Sometimes you’re not taken as seriously," said Schriefer, who is also a Civil Service Employees Association representative. "So I think it’s more important for women to have that command presence … to be assertive."
The gap also separates the pay of men and women who do the same or similar work for the governments studied, data shows. As police officers, for example, women make $10,100 less in total pay on average than men.
Those disparities also exist at every level of work experience.
In the 50 most prevalent full-time jobs in the governments studied — including laborers, clerk typists and caseworkers — the pay gap between men and women who do the same or similar work and have been in the state pension system for one year is $3,600. Among workers with 10 years it is $7,100.
But not all the disparities can be explained by a deficit in work experience, data shows. For example, 44 Suffolk County police officers — 35 men and 9 women — entered the state pension system on the same day in 2002 and worked full time for all of 2017. The women made on average $11,900 less than the men that year.
In some cases, women even receive less total pay despite having more years in the pension system. For example, women who held the Nassau job title probation officer 1 between 2011 and 2017 joined the state pension system on average 1.1 years earlier than men in the title but received $1,500 less in total annual pay.
The pay gap in that title and others is partly rooted in differences in overtime pay, according to the data.
Eighty percent of male full-time workers in town, city and county jobs received overtime in 2017, compared with 46% of women. The average overtime pay men received was $16,400; the women were paid $7,100.
Average pay gaps in common jobs
Women who work for Long Island governments receive less total pay than men who do the same or similar work. Chart shows total pay of men and women in some of the most common jobs from 2011 to 2017.
Officials who oversee unionized workforces said this overtime pay gap is likely the product of individual choice, as they have little say in who gets to work the extra hours.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said his department has “zero” discretion in assigning overtime. At the beginning of the year, officers with more seniority get the first chance to work the extra hours. After that, those who’ve worked less overtime that year are offered it first. Except during emergencies, it is up to officers to accept or decline.
“It's probably the fairest way you can do overtime,” Ryder said.
But Dan Levler, president of the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees, the largest of the county’s labor unions, said many female workers are hard-pressed to take on extra work because they are single parents.
“It's not that they couldn't do the overtime because they're female, it's that they can’t because they're also primary caregivers and have to pick up their kids and deal with their home life,” he said.
Corcoran, the retired Suffolk deputy sheriff investigator, who now lives in Summerville, South Carolina, said that was the case for her.
“I used to work a fair amount of overtime, again up until the point when I became a mom. And then I tried to work as little overtime as possible,” she said.
Officials and union leaders said the Civil Service system, intended to ensure fairness in government employment, may actually widen the pay gap.
Jerry Laricchiuta, president of Nassau's Civil Service Employees Association, said Civil Service job classifications and pay grades have historically given men an advantage over women. For example, he said, the Nassau title of clerk pays more than the title of clerk typist even though the jobs involve largely the same work.
“Back in the 1960s men didn’t type. So men got the clerk jobs without the typing,” he said. “It was totally acceptable to create a job that had less qualifications but higher pay, because men were supposed to make more than women."
Common jobs with small pay gaps
According to Nassau Civil Service records obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information request, the title clerk II has a higher pay grade than clerk typist II, and clerk III has a higher pay grade than clerk typist III. The pay grades have not changed since the late 1960s, a Civil Service official said.
The regulations are "old, antiquated, and they were written in favor of men,” Laricchiuta said.
Louis D. Stober Jr., an attorney for the Nassau CSEA who has represented clients with equal pay claims against Long Island governments, said the county last conducted a comprehensive review of job classifications and pay grades more than 50 years ago.
"That was supposed to equalize the pay" of similar jobs, "which it obviously didn't, but it did make things better," he said. "They have not done a similar job study since 1968, and it's way overdue."
Stober said the county is in violation of a section of its charter that states Nassau’s Civil Service Commission is responsible for standardizing county salaries and employment conditions “so that, as near as may be, equal pay may be given for equal work,” the charter reads.
Martha Krisel, the Nassau County Civil Service Commission executive director, did not respond to requests for comment.
Schneider said governments in Nassau and Suffolk can select only from the top three scorers on Civil Service tests when filling a vacancy in many positions, which makes diversifying male-centric jobs difficult if few of the test-takers are women.
Union leaders said differences in the specific duties of men and women in the same job title may also help explain the gaps shown in the data between their non-overtime pay, such as Corcoran's former Suffolk title, deputy sheriff investigator I. From 2011 to 2017, women in that title made on average $2,400 less in non-overtime pay, the data shows. The women joined the state pension system on average 2.1 years later.
John Becker, president of the Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff's Police Benevolent Association, said deputy sheriffs with identical job titles might have different responsibilities or schedules, and receive different base pay as a result.
Police departments are major drivers of the pay gap in Long Island county, town and city governments, data shows.
Suffolk and Nassau counties, the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach, and the five East End towns have police departments. Their average pay gap from 2011 to 2017 was $35,600. Without the police departments, the gap shrinks to $13,500.
In the eight towns that do not have police departments, the average gap was $13,100.
Law enforcement jobs are among the highest-paid in Long Island government, but women hold few top positions, data shows. In the Suffolk County Police Department, women made up 21% of full-time workers from 2011 to 2017, but 4% of those making $200,000 or more in total pay, and 81% of those making $50,000 or less.
Decades-old consent decrees with the U.S. Department of Justice mandate that Nassau and Suffolk diversify their police forces. But women still made up only 10% of full-year officers in Nassau and 13% in Suffolk in 2017, according to the data. Those percentages are unchanged since 2011.
Census data shows that women make up a smaller percentage of law enforcement workers on Long Island than they do elsewhere. Nationally and statewide, 19% of all law enforcement workers are women, according to 2016 census estimates. In Suffolk and Nassau, only an estimated 15% are women.
“I think the counties are failing dreadfully,” Allegra Fishel, the founder and executive director of the Gender Equality Law Center in Brooklyn, said of efforts to recruit more women to the force. “If they’re not recruiting enough, then the question is: Why? Is it a lack of interest? Or is it that they’re failing to follow through on recruitment efforts?”
Bellone said Suffolk made a “major push” to recruit a diverse pool of police test-takers this year. A Suffolk spokeswoman said 23% of those who registered to take the exam were women, a record high.
Curran said Nassau is “always looking for ways to diversify police recruitment.”
Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a Nassau police spokesman, said the department’s efforts to publicize its police exams emphasize recruiting women and minorities. He said the number of female sworn officers increased from 2017 to 2019.
In 2018, the Suffolk County Legislature confirmed Geraldine Hart as police commissioner, the first woman to hold the post. The department did not make Hart or other officials available for interviews.
Police pay gaps
Municipalities with police departments (blue) have wider gender pay gaps than nearly all those without (gray). Chart shows the gap in men’s and women’s average total pay from 2011 to 2017.
Men hold most of the sworn officer positions — those that involve carrying a firearm — in the county, town and city police departments, while women are clustered in clerical roles, data shows.
From 2014 to 2017, 33 people worked full time for a full year as captains in the Suffolk police department, making on average $207,400. All were men. In that same period, 65 people worked full time for a full year as principal clerks, receiving on average $59,000. All were women.
The pay gap also exists within some of the most common police jobs. Of the 1,511 people who worked full time for all of 2017 as Suffolk police officers, 193 were women. The women joined the state pension system 1.3 years later than the men on average and were paid on average $14,100 less, including $8,600 less in overtime.
Kathy Spillar, the executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which oversees the National Center for Women and Policing, said the police pay gaps may also trace back to the content of police exams, which she said favor men by prioritizing physical prowess over critical thinking and communication skills.
“They keep using these tactics to keep women out, and it’s a mistake, because it has nothing to do with who’s a good police officer,” she said. “We’re cheating women out of good-paying jobs.”
Nassau and Suffolk require police officer candidates to take physical fitness tests that include push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run, according to the county websites. Male candidates must perform more push-ups and sit-ups and complete the run faster.
Curran defended the test. “You have to be in good shape whether you’re a woman or a man,” she said. “In fact, dumbing down the physical fitness part I think is insulting to women.”
Officials and researchers said gender discrimination may also contribute to the municipal government pay gap.
“Whenever you’re looking at issues like this, you cannot discount the possibility of discrimination,” Bellone said. "There may be discriminatory impact without there even being an intent.”
Spillar said women who seek work in male-dominated fields can “face horrific sexual harassment,” which “is to tell them: You took a man’s job and you don’t belong here. That’s the brotherhood closing ranks.”
Pay discrimination has been a central contention in decades of lawsuits brought by female employees of Long Island’s municipal governments, records show.
In 1984, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees led a class-action lawsuit against Nassau County on behalf of female workers, alleging that the county intentionally paid workers less in jobs held mostly by women than in jobs held mostly by men. In 1992, a U.S. District Court judge ruled against the plaintiffs except regarding the pay of police detention aides.
In 2005, Ebbert, the former Nassau 911 call operator, led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of about 150 female 911 operators against Nassau, alleging the county paid them $10,000 less on average than male fire communication technicians for similar work.
“Everybody was afraid they were going to lose their job," Ebbert said of the women who joined the lawsuit. But “I thought it was illegal, and we needed to do something about it."
In 2012, a federal court ordered the county to award the 911 operators $7 million in back pay. The county acknowledged no wrongdoing in the settlement.
Later that year, male 911 operators filed a successful lawsuit against Nassau to bring their back pay in line with their female colleagues, as the women’s settlement had created a new, reversed pay disparity between the male and female 911 operators.
The pay gap is a less common subject of legal action than other types of gender discrimination, labor attorneys and officials said. Many women do not know that they are being paid less than their male colleagues, and those who do may be afraid to address the issue.
“It takes courage to come forward,” said Kevin Berry, director of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York, which investigates workplace discrimination complaints.
The complaints that are filed often end in settlements that come with nondisclosure agreements, which makes it difficult to assess the extent of the problem, attorneys said.
Local officials could do much to narrow the pay gaps dividing their workforces, experts said.
Increasing efforts to recruit women to higher-paying jobs held primarily by men is key, experts and officials said, although the effect on pay disparities might not immediately be apparent.
“When you start out with a police force that’s 95 to maybe 98% male, and eventually the women start coming in at the bottom, it takes a long time for women to get up at the top,” Schneider said.
Fishel said women already in those jobs should be heavily involved in recruitment efforts and serve as mentors to new female recruits.
“If you come into a primarily male environment and you don’t have support, you’re going to really struggle,” she said.
Spillar said the police departments should replace their current physical fitness tests with others that measure the basic health of job candidates and undertake studies to determine “the real physical requirements” of police work.
To improve pay parity in Civil Service jobs, Laricchiuta and Stober said the Nassau County Civil Service Commission should again conduct a comprehensive review of job classifications and pay grades to identify discrepancies between the pay of similar jobs held mostly by women or men.
Experts also said governments could help parents balance family responsibilities with their careers by offering more flexible work schedules, more paid family leave and subsidies for child care.
“One of the biggest reasons women lose their jobs is because they have to care for their families,” Fishel said. “Flexibility helps people stay on the job.”
Simply raising the pay of lower-wage jobs held mostly by women could also help close the gap, experts said.
“Some of the jobs and job functions in Suffolk County are so important to the taxpayers,” Levler said. It’s important “that we compensate the people that provide that function a little better.”
Legislation signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July should also help close the gap, experts said. The law prohibits employers from inquiring about the salary histories of job candidates.
Suffolk County passed a similar law last year.
“Since women historically have been underpaid, the basis of setting a salary for bringing somebody in shouldn’t be what they were previously making,” Bellone said.
The state legislature in June also passed a bill that expands New York State Civil Service law to require equal pay for Civil Service jobs that involve “substantially similar work.” The law has not yet been delivered to Cuomo to sign.
Curran said she has sought to narrow the gap by appointing qualified women to top government posts.
“It’s incredibly important to set the tone from the top,” she said, noting about half of her senior staff is female.
“It’s not because they’re women. It’s because they’re the right people for the job,” she said.
Pay gaps nationwide
Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the pay gaps in Long Island’s county, town and city governments are not unique. According to 2016 census estimates, women who work for local governments throughout the country make on average 84% of the pay of their male colleagues. Those census estimates show the local government pay gap to be 86% in Nassau County and 81% in Suffolk County. The figures differ from Newsday’s findings because the census estimates also consider the pay of employees of school districts and other local governments, which Newsday's analysis did not.
National studies also show that women of color face larger pay gaps than white women. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, white women in 2017 made 77% the pay of white men, while black women made 61% the pay of white men, and Hispanic women made 53%. The data obtained by Newsday did not indicate the race or ethnicity of the Long Island local government employees.
Newsday’s analysis is based on payroll records for 31,000 people who worked the equivalent of full-time hours for a full year for Long Island town, county and city governments between 2011 and 2017. Newsday acquired the records through Freedom of Information requests to those 17 governments and to the Office of the New York State Comptroller.
Excluded from the database are employees who did not work the equivalent of full-time hours for a full year; who held multiple jobs with a single government in a year; who did not participate in the state pension system; who received a termination payout; or for whom complete payroll data was not available, such as employees of the Nassau and Suffolk community colleges. Those included in the analysis make up approximately 95% of full-time employees who worked the equivalent of full-time hours for a full year for the 17 governments studied. The data provided did not identify any worker's gender as something other than male or female.
The total pay reported by the governments may include salaries, overtime pay, longevity pay, car allowances, uniform allowances and other forms of monetary compensation. Benefits such as health insurance were not considered in Newsday’s analysis.
In comparing the pay of men and women with the same or similar jobs, Newsday typically grouped employees who perform similar work but have different levels of seniority, and those whose jobs are similar but have different titles in different governments. Newsday largely excluded department heads from these groupings.
To estimate work experience, Newsday calculated how long employees have been members of the New York State and Local Retirement System, one of New York’s government pension systems. Some employees may have had relevant work experience prior to joining the pension system or stopped working temporarily after joining. Such scenarios may have impacted their earnings as Long Island government employees but were not indicated in the data provided. In most Civil Service job titles in Long Island governments, however, prior work experience does not influence a new employee's starting salary, according to former Suffolk County Department of Civil Service Personnel Director Alan Schneider.
The overall finding — that women earn two-thirds the pay of men — is based on a broad comparison of the total average pay of 19,400 men and 11,700 women employed for the equivalent of full-time hours for a full year by one of the county, town or city governments from 2011 to 2017. Newsday did not exclusively compare men and women with the same job title or years worked in that title to arrive at this finding, as job titles for the same or similar work vary between the governments, and the data provided did not indicate years worked in specific jobs.
Chandra Childers, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said it is standard in studies of the gender pay gap to compare the pay of all men to all women, as such comparisons offer a "big picture" view of the issue that highlights the correlation of gender alone to the average earnings of men and women, absent all other factors.
Newsday also conducted narrower analyses, comparing only men and women who do the same or similar work, have the same number of years in the state pension system or both. Newsday also excluded overtime pay from some calculations. In some cases, these narrower comparisons looked at just a few dozen workers in the same government with the same job title and number of years in the pension system.
The broader comparisons considered larger, more diverse groups of workers and yielded more general observations, while the narrower comparisons revealed pay gaps among smaller groups of more similar workers. On average, the narrow comparisons supported the finding that women who work full time for the governments studied are paid less than their male counterparts.