A closer look at 'Paycheck Fairness'
Here's a headline from last week: “Senate Republicans vote to block Paycheck Fairness Act.” The quick and incorrect assumption is that Republicans are opposed to women getting equal pay for equal work.
That's exactly the type of interpretation 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 Obama at the White House before the aforementioned Senate vote on Paycheck Fairness, “Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns — for African Americans, Latinas, it's even less.”
Given the prospect of losing the Senate, Obama kept things uncomplicated and simply told the nation that Republicans are “gumming up the works” and preventing equal pay for equal work.
Missing from this White House pep rally was any hint that the so-called “77 cents” scenario is built entirely on a comparison of apples to oranges.
In “The ‘77 Cents on the Dollar' Myth About Women's Pay” (The 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.
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. According to 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.”
Bottom line, polarizing the nation by race or gender might help win votes, but it's not the path to producing more jobs or more prosperity.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (firstname.lastname@example.org).