Here’s a headline last week: “Senate Republicans vote to block Paycheck Fairness Act.”
The quick and incorrect interpretation of that headline, if casual readers don’t have the time or interest to dig into the facts? Republicans are against “fairness” in paychecks. Republicans are against women getting equal pay for equal work.
That’s exactly the type of interpretation that is sought by the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats, increasingly fearful of losing their slim majority in the Senate in November.
From the Washington Post, here’s the midterm election forecast two months ago by Associate Professor of Political Science John Sides at George Washington University, a specialist in public opinion and American elections: “Given that President Obama is more unpopular than popular,” and given that “the relationship between presidential approval and Senate elections is stronger” today than previously, and “based on Senate elections from 1980 to 2012,” the Republicans “now have a 64 percent chance of taking the Senate.”
Proclaimed President Obama at the White House before the aforementioned Senate vote, “Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns — for African American women, Latinas, it’s even less.”
Given the prospect of losing the Senate, Mr. Obama kept things uncomplicated and simply told the nation that it’s Republicans who are “gumming up the works” and preventing equal pay for equal work.
Understandably, what was missing at this White House pep rally, designed more to get votes than to fix the economy, was any hint that the 77 cents scenario of “full-time” vs. “full-time” unequal pay stubs is totally built on a comparison of apples to oranges.
In “The ‘77 Cents on the Dollar’ Myth About Women’s Pay” (Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2014), Mark J. Perry, professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan, and Andrew G. Biggs, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, concisely summarized the flaws in the alleged 23 percent wage gap for equal work.
“Men were almost twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week, and women almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week,” report Perry and Biggs, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Once that is taken into consideration, the pay gap begins to shrink. Women who worked a 40 hour week earned 88 percent of male earnings.”
Women also more often “choose fields of study, such as sociology, liberal arts or psychology, that pay less,” while men are “more likely to major in finance, accounting, or engineering.” Again, it’s apples and oranges.
Similarly, dangerous jobs often pay more in order to compensate for risks and attract workers. “Nearly all the most dangerous occupations, such as loggers or iron workers, are majority male and 92 percent of work-related deaths in 2012 were to men,” report Perry and Biggs.
Additionally, “as the American Association of University Women reports, men are four times more likely to bargain over salaries once they enter the job market.”
Marriage and children also affect pay differences. Child care that takes women out of the labor force translates into women having less work experience than similarly-aged males. Report Perry and Biggs, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that single women who have never married earned 96 percent of men’s earnings in 2012.”
None of those facts enter Mr. Obama’s calculations. Instead, he demonizes those who don’t buy his prescriptions for “fairness” while simultaneously saying that he’s unendingly looking for cooperation and bipartisanship.
As he asserted, for instance, at the well-publicized April 8 photo op at the White House for equal pay, the “resistance from some folks on this issue up on Capitol Hill just fits with this larger problem, this vision that the congressional Republicans seem to be continually embracing — this notion that, you know what, you’re just on your own, no matter how unfair things are.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid was beating the same demonizing drum just prior to the Senate vote, saying “For some unknown reason, Senate Republicans do not appear to be interested in closing the wage gap for working women,” thereby fully ignoring the abovementioned justifiable reasons for wage differences from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the principal fact-finding agency for the federal government in matters of wages, employment and labor economics, as well as fully ignoring the common sense warnings of how the proposed law for equal pay and the mandated publication of individual compensation by race and gender could well swing open the door to an onslaught of frivolous and job-killing lawsuits.