In an aggressive attempt to turn attention away from other issues less favorable to them as the midterm elections approach, Obama and the Democrats are yet again trying to generate some return from their “war on women” mantra. This time they’re highlighting with carefully choreographed actions what they insist is gender pay inequity.
On Wednesday, the Senate fell short on the number of yeas to move forward on the so-called “Paycheck Fairness Act”. Bluntly revealing the political nature of the entire effort, Democrats leaped at the opportunity to send out a fundraising solicitation bemoaning the loss within minutes of the vote.
Obama routinely cites U.S. Census data showing that the average full-time female worker earned 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. (The U.S. Department of Labor says women in full-time jobs earn 81 cents for every dollar men earn.)
But the pay situation is not quite as simple as Obama and his Democratic colleagues say. Today the New York Times featured a story on the issue: Democrats Use Pay Issue in Bid for Women’s Vote, making that point.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) makes the same point in its annual report, “Highlights of women’s earnings in 2012”: “In 2012, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median usual weekly earnings of $691. On average in 2012, women made about 81% of the median earnings of male full-time wage and salary workers ($854).” That appears to support Obama’s assertions.
But every “full-time” worker, as the BLS notes, is not the same: 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. Once that is taken into consideration, the pay gap begins to shrink. Women who worked a 40-hour week earned 88% of male earnings.
Then there is the issue of marriage and children. The BLS reports that single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings in 2012.
The supposed pay gap appears when marriage and children enter the picture. Child care takes mothers out of the labor market, so when they return they have less work experience than similarly-aged males.
The reality is that multiple factors affect the earnings data, including the types of jobs worked by women, the number of hours they worked, their area of specialization/college major, hours worked and the career progression of some women.
One factor affecting the pay women receive is their work/home patterns. Women who leave the workforce to care for their children at home and later return to work often find that lower wages await them than if they had kept working. A Pew Research Center study released on April 8 revealed that the share of mothers who stay home with their children has steadily risen in recent years.
According to Pew, the share of mothers who don’t work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999.
Another Pew study in 2013 found that mothers are much more likely than fathers to have reduced work hours, take a significant amount of time off, quit a job or, by a small margin, turn down a promotion in order to care for a child or family member.
Pew said today’s young women are the first in modern history to start their work lives at near parity with men. Pew pointed out, however, that there’s no guarantee that today’s young women will sustain their near parity with men in earnings in the years to come. Recent cohorts of young women have fallen further behind their same-aged male counterparts as they have aged and dealt with the responsibilities of parenthood and family.
Still, it would be wise not to ignore that while the public sees greater workplace equality between men and women now than it did 20 to 30 years ago, most believe more change is needed, the Pew Research Center notes. Among Millennial women, 75% say this country needs to continue making changes to achieve gender equality in the workplace, compared with 57% of Millennial men.
So there’s still a lot of work to do.