By Paul Hughes

HARTFORD – Women have made significant advances in the Connecticut workforce over the last two decades, but are still facing persistent disparities. New research shows women have increased participation in the labor force, narrowed the wage gap and secured more better-paying and higher-status jobs since the mid-1990s.

On the downside, women are still facing inequities impeding their progress, including continuing to trail men in earnings, low levels of education and limited access to affordable child care.

The legislature’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women released a study Tuesday that updated a 1998 analysis of women’s standing in the workforce. The new research paints a picture of Connecticut as a state where women have made considerable progress overall, but still confront significant challenges, said Cynthia Hess, study director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the report’s author.

“Connecticut women, as a whole, have advanced in the last several decades, but the progress has not been equally distributed,” she said.

Race, ethnicity, geography and wealth appear to sharpen the disparities among women in terms of employment, earnings and education. The overall wage gap has shown some improvement over the last few years, according to the updated research.

On average, women now earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn. The 1998 study reported a difference of nearly 71 cents to every dollar. In Connecticut, the median annual earnings for women who work full-time year-round was $46,000, compared with $37,000 nationwide. Yet it was considerably lower than the $60,000 median for men here.

More women are in the workforce since the 1998 study came out.

“Women’s participation in the labor force has increased from about 61 percent to 63 percent,” Hess said.

The study found women are also more likely than in the past to work in managerial or professional occupations.

“More women are securing high-level jobs. The percent of women employed in managerial and professional occupations has increased in Connecticut from 43 percent to 44 percent in between the 1998 release and today’s report,” Hess said.

Additionally, the percentage of women-owned businesses has also increased over the years. Working women in Connecticut also tend to be more highly educated than in the nation as a whole.

“The percentage of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher has increased between 1998 and 2012 from 24 percent to 37 percent,” Hess said.

She said these findings show women have made substantial progress in the workforce.

“I think the gains that we have made particularly in Connecticut have to do with the fact that we are a more progressive state that acknowledges what women do contribute to our economy and the role that women play in the workplace,” said Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.

Yet, Hess said, the overall state average masks serious disparities among women based on race, ethnicity, education levels, wealth and where they live in Connecticut. While white women earned $51,000 in 2012, black women earned an average of $40,000, and Hispanic women earned $30,947, according to the research. Asian-American women earned $49,515.

Between 2010 and 2012, black women earned 60.3 percent of white men’s earnings, and Hispanic women earned 46.6 percent.

The study reported women from wealthier towns and cities earn nearly twice as much as women from communities with the lowest incomes, highest poverty rates and highest population densities, and only earn half as much men in wealthy Connecticut.

The research also found education levels vary. Asian-American and white women have the highest levels of education. Fewer than one in five black and Hispanic women age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The study said only 3.3 percent of women from the wealthiest towns and cities hold the lowest level of education.

“It is a cause for concern that many women in the state do not have access to education or jobs that provide family-sustaining wages. It is time to take such challenges seriously and address them head on,” Hess said.