“The higher concentrations of men in riskier occupations with greater occurrences of workplace injuries and fatalities suggest that more men than women are willing to expose themselves to work-related injury or death in exchange for higher wages,” Perry wrote. “In contrast, women more than men prefer lower risk, family-friendly occupations with greater workplace safety, and are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the reduced probability of work-related injury or death.”
Those who perpetuate the myth of the 23-cent wage gap myth do so even though they know the real reasons for the gap. President Obama continues to claim women earn less than men even though, using the same statistics to arrive at the 77 or 78-cent figure, his administration has its own wage gap. When that was pointed out, the administration responded by saying it was because there are more women in the administration but they hold lower-paying jobs, which skews the average. A side-by-side comparison of men and women working the same jobs found no such wage gap.
The acknowledgment that the 77-cent figure is inaccurate hasn’t stopped the White House from still bringing it up from time to time, although Obama himself has slowed down on its use recently.
Americans all support the concept of “equal pay for equal work,” but the “78 cents” figure actually doesn’t compare equal work. The statistic doesn’t take into account the industries, jobs, education levels, or the number of hours, and years of experience of the workers. Men and women often make different choices about work, which is why they earn different amounts. That’s not a problem government should be trying to solve.
But even if progressives misinterpret the wage gap as evidence of unequal pay for equal work, then they should at least recognize that the government long ago took action to make this type of discrimination illegal. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 both outlaw sex-based wage discrimination. Women have and often exercise the right to sue for damages from sexist employers.
Sadly, none of the laws in our federal code will stop sexist bosses from being sexist, just as laws against violence, theft, or vandalism won’t completely eliminate those crimes. But creating more legislation in the name of outlawing what is already illegal is counterproductive.
President Obama takes great pride in the first piece of legislation he signed, “The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.” This law lengthened the statute of limitations on wage discrimination lawsuits and broadened legal avenues to sue.
But contrary to its title, it did not overnight make all wages “fair.” The president has since been in the sticky situation of explaining that although he signed a “fair pay” law, he believes women are still unfairly paid. Is it an effective law or isn’t it?
Few experts dispute that there is a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women — such as women tending to leave the workforce when they have children — make it difficult to make simple comparisons. That’s what’s so facile about repeatedly citing “78 cents” or “77 cents.”
Democrats are relying on a simple calculation from the Census Bureau: a ratio of the difference between women’s median earnings and men’s median earnings. (The median is the middle value, with an equal number of full-time workers earning more and earning less.) That leaves a pay gap of 22 cents.
But the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the gap is 18 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages — 13 cents — but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers.
Annual wage figures do not take into account the fact that teachers — many of whom are women — have a primary job that fills nine months out of the year.
Slate.com, which admits discrimination is not the whole wage-gap story in an interesting examination of the higher relative wages of lesbians compared to heterosexual women. The reasons? Choices, not just discrimination:
While it has become fashionable to disparage Lean In-style exhortations for women to push harder for their own advancement, the data on lesbian earning power suggest that discrimination and sexism are not the only culprits in the continuing existence of a wage gap between men and women—if they were, lesbians would be expected to earn less than straight women do, because they face discrimination for both their femaleness and their gayness. Because lesbians are not a privileged group in our society, their relative workplace successes must be at least partially attributable to differences in their career choices and priorities. Heterosexuality, and the desire to attract a male partner, seems to act like a millstone around the necks of straight women, preventing them from achieving their full potential. For lesbians, we see some of that lost potential being tapped, even in the face of continuing discrimination in the work environment. Of course, it’s still vital to fight sexism in all its forms—women cannot close the pay gap through their own individual efforts alone. But that doesn’t mean those efforts are in vain. Straight women could learn a thing or two from lesbians.
Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, acknowledged to reporters that the 77-cent figure did not reflect equal pay for equal work. “Seventy-seven cents captures the annual earnings of full-time, full-year women divided by the annual earnings of full-time, full-year men,” she said. “There are a lot of things that go into that 77-cents figure, there are a lot of things that contribute and no one’s trying to say that it’s all about discrimination, but I don’t think there’s a better figure.”
KARL: OK. But you’re using the same metric to argue that there’s pay discrimination in the workforce at large. Explain to me why the metric works in the economy at large, but it doesn’t work here at the White House?
CARNEY: Again, the fact that there is indisputable census data that women earn 77 cents on the dollar that men earn. A lot of things go into that discrepancy. Discrimination and lack of transparency and the inability of women to find out what they’re paid vis-a-vis their male coworkers is part of the problem. That is something we, in the administration via the president’s authorities, and Congress through legislation can address. That is what the president is saying today. That is why he took the action he took That is why he’s calling on Congress to do what it can do to address those problems. I’m not disputing that there are a lot of factors that go into that, but the discrepancy is real. And the again, I —
KARL: But I still don’t understand why you’re saying that’s evidence of discrimination outside the White House, but the same metric is not evidence of discrimination inside the White House. I mean, it’s the same metric.
CARNEY: Again, Jon, what I’m saying —
KARL: Well, you’re not going very well — 88 percent?
CARNEY: Well, first of all, again, if you want to compare metrics, we’re doing better.
KARL: So is that the goal, to do a little bit better than the outside?
CARNEY: No, the goal is to do absolutely the best that we can do and that what we’re striving to do here. And that’s what the legislation the president calls on Congress to pass would ensure that others are doing across the country. And what astounds me about this debate is the suggestion — and you don’t hear a lot of women making it — is that there isn’t pay discrepancy.
FALL RIVER, Wis. — Sara Uttech has not spent much of her career so far worrying about “leaning in.” Instead, she has mostly been hanging on, trying to find ways to get her career to accommodate her family life, rather than the other way around.
Ms. Uttech, like many working mothers, is a married college graduate, and her job running member communications for an agricultural association helps put her family near the middle of the nation’s income curve. And like dozens of other middle-class working mothers interviewed about their work and family lives, she finds climbing a career ladder less of a concern than finding a position that offers paid sick leave, flexible scheduling or even the opportunity to work fewer hours. The ultimate luxury for some of them, in fact (though not for Ms. Uttech), would be the option to be a stay-at-home mother.
“I never miss a baseball game,” said Ms. Uttech, uttering a statement that is a fantasy for millions of working mothers (and fathers) nationwide. (This attendance record is even more impressive when you realize that her children play in upward of six a week.)