Women in Santa Clara County are the most likely in California to work a low-wage job. They also face California’s third highest gender income gap, according to a new analysis by the California Budget & Policy Center.

The women’s well-being index ranked the state’s 58 counties based on 30 indicators, including economic factors such as income, the rate of women earning low-wages and the earnings gap between men and women.

While women in Napa County made 95 cents for every $1 a man made and those in San Francisco made 86 cents, women in Santa Clara made only 71 cents — nearly 30% less than what their male counterparts earned, the study found. Employed women who lived in the tech bastion, including part-time workers, had a 45.9% chance of working a low-wage job — the highest rate in the state. The statewide average for women was 38.5%, and for men, 32.4 percent.

‘Life in California before COVID’

“This index is painting a clear picture of what life was like in California before COVID — before so many women had to leave the labor market,” said Kristin Schumacher, who created the index in 2016 and has just updated it to include 2014-2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, surveys and other government data.

Meanwhile, the pandemic recession has ravaged California’s workforce. More than 8 million Californians have filed first time claims for unemployment since March and jobs have been slow to come back. Experts say women are bearing a disproportionate share of the job losses, and Schumacher said she worried the pandemic might “wipe out” years of progress towards economic parity.

Although Santa Clara County has the highest median income in the state at just under $116,200, it has made little headway toward narrowing the gender wage gap.

Bay Area counties

Only three counties — all in the Bay Area — had a higher median income for women than Santa Clara’s $64,700: San Mateo, San Francisco, and Marin, which topped the chart with a $75,500 women’s median income. The statewide median income for men was $76,000. But in Santa Clara County, the gap between what men and women earn has remained relatively steady since the first index was released in 2016.

Back then, eight counties had worse gender wage gaps than Santa Clara. This year, only Calaveras County fared worse and Inyo County tied Santa Clara with women making 71% of what men earned. Statewide, women made 88 cents for every $1 men made. In Alameda, they made 83 cents, and in Contra Costa, 79 cents.

Women in the Bay Area might rank on the higher end of the income spectrum, but that doesn’t mean most women make the median income, a figure that often can “obscure the lived experience of people,” according to Laura Ellingson, a women’s studies expert and communications professor at Santa Clara University. Highly paid tech jobs are likely driving those numbers up, Ellingson said, while very low wages stack at the bottom. “How many women do you know that are getting paid CEO salaries? There is still almost none of them,” Ellington said.

More than a fifth of all jobs in Santa Clara County are related to the tech sector, but women make up only 26.8% of tech workers, according to census data. “And they’re mostly white women,” Ellingson added.

The index revealed that 45.6% of women living in Santa Clara County work in a low-wage job, defined as one in which a worker earns less than two-thirds of the county’s median full-time wage.

Job losses

Adding to the challenges, more women than men have lost their jobs: from February to May, 11.5 million women lost their jobs compared to 9 million men, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Women face a “triple whammy,” suggested a recent analysis by SOCIUS: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World. They occupy sectors hard-hit by the recession at high rates; they more often are caregivers, and they are on the frontlines of the pandemic, with 40% of women in the labor force working government, health, and education services. That’s double the ratio of men. Among parents, mothers of young children saw the largest drop in labor force participation, the analysis said, with nearly a quarter million more American mothers than fathers leaving their jobs.

“Let’s hope they don’t carry the price for so long,” said Elise Gould, senior economic at the Economic Policy Institute.

* This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.