by Robert Trigaux,

Times Business Columnist

At first glance, working women in Florida have cause to cheer — at least in contrast to women in most other states — for getting paid 84 cents for every $1 paid to white men in Florida.

That 16-cent difference may not sound worthy of a victory cheer. But nationwide, the gender pay gap remains stuck at 77 cents paid to women versus $1 for men. Only three states rank higher than Florida, with women in Vermont, Nevada and Maryland getting 85 cents per $1 paid to white men. And plenty of diverse states, from Wyoming and Louisiana to Massachusetts and Indiana, pay far less to women when compared to what men make there.

The reasons for pay gaps are many. Women tend to work in lower-paying jobs in careers often complicated by time off for children. They are underrepresented in high-paying positions. But that is changing in some fields.

Before Florida gets too smug about these results drawn from a Center for American Progress survey, what's really behind the state's pay gap?

While the gap is smaller than in most states, it also is a reminder that Florida women and men on average don't make a lot — less than the national average. So when a large number of Florida women and men hold jobs in the lower-wage tourism industry, for example, the pay gap between male and female waiters tends to be narrow.

Other states with bigger pay gaps may also have more jobs that pay better. That includes work in the energy industry (Wyoming, Louisiana) or high-tech (Massachusetts, Washington) fields still dominated by male workers. That, too, can skew pay gap results.

Still, it's good news that the pay gap between women and men here is among the smallest in the country. The Center for American Progress, chaired by John Podesta, former chief of staff in Bill Clinton's White House, even gives Florida an "A-" and a No. 9 ranking in the country for women and "economic security."

Other survey findings about Florida are less flattering.

Florida gets a reasonable "B-" on leadership, with only 20 percent of state elected executive offices held by women. In the private sector, women hold only 38.7 percent of the managerial jobs in Florida while making up 52 percent of its population.

But it is in the survey's look at "health factors" where Florida gets crushed, ranking 46th. The survey found 23 percent of Florida women are uninsured. With one OB-GYN for every 11,824 women in the state, it is hard to find health care. And Florida ranks 38th nationwide on maternal mortality rate.

Overall, the survey hands Florida a "C'' and a middle-of-the-pack No. 26 ranking.

"This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Florida can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success and living a healthy life" the survey said.

Florida still outdid its neighbors in the survey. Seven states stretching from Georgia west to Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma all received "F'' grades. The Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky all got a "D."

The top-ranked state overall? Maryland, with an "A." The worst? Louisiana.

Robert Trigaux can be reached