This afternoon the Senate will take up a less-than-crucial issue: an apparently likely-doomed piece of presidentially endorsed legislation meant to narrow the already-shrinking gender pay gap. But rather than address this dubious problem, the Paycheck Fairness Act would in fact complicate the lives of employers and employees.
Despite vociferous endorsements from several women’s groups and prominent congressional Democrats, liberals are pessimistic about the bill’s future — The Nation suggested that it probably won’t gain any congressional traction, even in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But despite the bill’s long odds, Democrats see it as a valuable political tool. (Republicans understand that angle, too, of course; Senator Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) called it a “purely politically motivated show vote.”) The legislation has been used to target Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has yet to voice his opinion on the bill. And it may prove a helpful PR play for Democrats in tight congressional races, one more example of the GOP’s alleged sexism.
But it shouldn’t be. June O’Neill, a professor of economics at Baruch College and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, tells National Review
that the legislation is in fact “insulting to women,” especially one provision establishing a grant to give women salary-negotiation training. O’Neill argues that this element of the “absurd” bill implicitly contradicts its own premise: that gender can have no bearing on people’s ability to do their jobs.
Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women’s Forum notes that the legislation comes at a bad time. “Especially in an era of exploding national debt, it doesn’t seem like a very good use of taxpayer money,” she said.
Ours isn’t the first era to deal with wage differences between men and women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned workplace discrimination based on sex, including different pay for the same work. The next significant legislation on the issue came in 2009, with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which empowers employees or retirees to sue within 180 days of an unequal salary or pension check. That effectively eliminates the statute of limitations by allowing plaintiffs to sue years after a discriminatory salary was negotiated. “It’s great for trial lawyers,” says James Sherk, senior policy analyst on labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.
That notorious Democratic interest group would look forward to more spoils from the Paycheck Fairness Act. Instead of simply requiring employers to prove that salary differences between members of the opposite sex are not the result of sexism, it would force them to show that these differences are a “business necessity” and can’t be rectified — a dramatic encroachment on businesses’ discretion, as a recent Washington Post editorial argued.
Under the bill, if a man and woman had the same job description but the man made more because he was better educated, the woman could suggest the company pay for her to receive similar training, raising her value to the company, and justifying a salary equal to the man’s. James Sherk, senior policy analyst on labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, explains that refusal to fund such training could be grounds for a lawsuit.
“It’s an incredibly high standard to clear there,” Sherk said.