On June 5, the Senate struck down the Paycheck Fairness Act, a proposed law designed to help women sue businesses for gender-based wage discrimination. The legislation drew criticism from corporate interests across the country for its potential to encourage frivolous lawsuits and hurt small businesses. Even the Washington Postthought it was a bad bill.
But not Rachel Maddow. Since the bill’s nascence, she has championed its quixotic goal of making a nation where gender wage gaps will be forever banished. In several blog posts and segments on her MSNBC show, she has argued that the only people who could possibly oppose the Paycheck Fairness Act are delusional conservatives who care more about the Chamber of Commerce than about women. She has based most of her arguments on an oft-repeated statistic: For every dollar men make, women make $0.77.
“Women get paid less than men do, 77 cents on the dollar on average, that’s true,” she said on May 1. “Democrats know that’s true. It is the accepted truth by anybody who’s looking at the facts of the matter. Republicans do not know that’s true.”
For Maddow, America’s future hinges on whether or not most Americans are as delusional as your average right-winger:
“Does the country live in Republican world where women getting paid less than men somehow isn’t a problem, where policy on issues like this somehow doesn’t matter, because it turns out women are doing great?” she asked.
It’s a rhetorical question, but it deserves a serious answer. If the 77-cent statistic were right, it would be compelling. But the truth isn’t that simple.
In an appearance on Meet the Press, Maddow got in a testy spat with Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who explained why the statistic is misleading. Men work, on average, three hours more per week than women do, he noted, and they often enter more lucrative fields, such as science and engineering. He added that in some age brackets, single women actually make more than their male counterparts. But when marriage is added to the equation, the income gap rears its head, perhaps because women with children tend to choose jobs that allow more flexible schedules.
Maddow responded by pointing out (fairly, in my view) that Castellanos was condescending.
But for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that Maddow is right: The Scrooge McDucks who are chowing down on much more than their fair share of the economic pie are leading the charge in the War on Women by paying ladies only 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
For the sake of argument, let’s buy that. The next question is, What exactly does the Paycheck Fairness Act accomplish?