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Gender pay gap is about election day, not payday


Washington Democrats are likely overjoyed that their “Paycheck Fairness Act” failed in the Senate. Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the legislation but the vote was 53-44. No Republicans voted with the Democrats, who now have an issue to use against the GOP as the election approaches. It’s a phony issue but if it works that won’t matter.

Why would anyone vote against something called the Paycheck Fairness Act? Who isn’t in favor of paychecks and fairness? Well, like so many bills, this one was given an appealing name that has little to do with the issue it claims to address.

From now until November, Democrats will declare that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Their bill, they’ll say, fixes that but Republicans oppose it because they don’t care about the injustice that’s being done to women in the workplace.

A pay gap exists but it’s narrower than Democrats claim. The Paycheck Fairness Act is more about harvesting votes than about paychecks or fairness. It’s about Democrats knowing they’ll need every woman’s vote they can get or else they may lose the Senate.

No reasonable person could think Republicans — or anyone else — truly believes it’s OK if a man and woman of equal experience and ability doing the same job receive unequal pay.

President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay women less money than men for the same work. Obviously, it was the right thing to do.

The “fact” that women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man is untrue. The “statistic” leads one to believe that a man and woman at the same company doing the same job over the same period of time will earn a different wage — the woman’s being lower. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the figure represents the median wage of women employees compared to every dollar earned by a male worker. In order to get the correct figure you have to examine numerous variables, including what profession is being scrutinized, how long the individuals have been employed and what benefits are factored into the individual’s wages.

In their study, “The Gender Pay Gap,” Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn pointed out there is a gap, but over time it’s been closing. When the fissure began narrowing the gains were initially among younger women but over time all women have benefited.

The numbers are headed in the right direction but the researchers acknowledge “all sources of the pay differential between men and women have not been eradicated.”

Work experience is an issue. Blau and Kahn report that “women’s lesser amount of labor market experience is found to be a significant determinant of the gender wage differential, explaining 11 percent of the gender gap… This reflects a 3.5 year difference in full-time experience between men and women, which, though smaller than in previous years, is still a substantial factor.”

The 77 cent criticism doesn’t take into account the difference in pay scale between various professions. It’s pointless to allege discrimination when a woman working as an office manager for a small company makes less than a man who is the president of a Wall Street brokerage firm.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce notes that, except for one category, men outnumber women in the 10 most lucrative college majors.

The center said, “The majors in which women are most heavily concentrated are almost exclusively in the education and health fields.”

The most profitable majors include petroleum engineering (87 percent male); aerospace engineering (88 percent male); mining and mineral engineering (90 percent male).

Earlier this month the Pew Research Center reported women earn 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For younger women the gap is 93 percent. Why?

Pew found, “Even though women have increased their presence in higher paying jobs … women as a whole continue to work in lower paying occupations than men do.”

That supports the Georgetown study.

Pew also reported women were more likely to interrupt their career to have a child.

Might it be that men and women prefer different career paths? The data indicates that’s the case.

Not every social inconsistency is due to something nefarious. The Democrats’ allegations about the gender pay gap are more about Election Day than pay day.

But it’s a good strategy. In today’s political climate emotion gets more traction than reality.

Joseph Bell was communications director for former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons, who represented Connecticut’s 2nd District.

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