This week, the Obama administration wants to attempt a pivot to jobs and the economy with a couple of executive orders that will supposedly address the gender-pay gap in America. Critics immediately demanded to know what the White House planned to do about its own gender-pay gap, as women in the administration only earn 91 cents for every dollar earned by men. Jay Carney helpfully explained that no action was needed, because the White House is at least doing better than the national average.
The White House on Monday looked to deflect criticism over its own pay policies ahead of an event Tuesday on lessening wage discrimination.
White House press secretary Jay Carney was peppered by questions from reporters about an American Enterprise Institute study that found the salary for the median female White House staffer was 12 percent lower than for a male staffer.
Carney said that men and women in the same jobs at the White House earn the same salaries.
“We have two deputy chiefs of staff, one man and one woman, and they make the same salary,” Carney said. “We have 16 department heads. Over half of them are women, all of whom make the same salary as their male counterparts.”
“What I can tell you is that we have, as an institution here, have aggressively addressed this challenge, and obviously, though, at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not a hundred, but it is better than the national average,” Carney said. “And when it comes to the bottom line that women who do the same work as men have to be paid the same, there is no question that that is happening here at the White House at every level.”
Actually, McClatchy found that the ratio was 91:100, but either way, Carney is using a dishonest comparison. The Obama administration uses an old and discredited formula that broadly averages wages for men and women to get the worst possible gender gap for their argument, but balk at applying the same standard to themselves. That old and discredited formula does not compare similar jobs or work, but just averages all the wages for men and women — negating the impact of choice of lifestyles, for instance, or interests. Carney and the White House want themselves judged on equal pay across identical job descriptions rather than the calculation they use for everyone else.
The Daily Beast ripped the White House for this calculation in February:
President Obama repeated the spurious gender wage gap statistic in his State of the Union address. “Today,” he said, “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”
What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers. In its fact-checking column on the State of the Union, the Washington Post included the president’s mention of the wage gap in its list of dubious claims. “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.”
If the actual wage gap is just five cents, then the White House may be worse than the national average. And even if the twelve-cent gap turns out to be smaller due to the same circumstances, Barack Obama’s executive order efforts should start with his own staff, no? If he wanted to set an example for equal pay regardless of job assignment, then Obama should start by looking at his own budget rather than poke his nose into everyone else’s. Hey, we don’t discriminate as bad as you all isn’t exactly a winning political message, after all.
This administration issues a lot of clumsy and ill-advised defenses for its policies, but this has to rank somewhere in the top 25. They’ve had months to come up with a response to their hypocrisy and dishonest calculations on the gender gap, and this is the best they could manage?