Politics & Policy

The White House’s Invisible Pay Gap

Where the Boys Are (White House via Flickr)
Feminists care more about supporting their political allies than their principles.

One of the most powerful organizations in America is headed by a man. His chief of staff is a man. And although the institution has both male and female employees, it was revealed yesterday in a Washington Post report that its women employees make 87 percent as much as the men do, and have done so for years.

If this institution were any other one, feminist organizations would be howling with indignation, using it as yet another example of why a federal law is needed to mandate equal pay outcomes for women.

But this organization is the only one that feminists refuse to attack: the Obama White House.

For the better part of a century, women’s organizations rightly complained about a double standard: one set of rules for men, another set of rules for women. Now we have the 21st-century double standard: one set of rules for the Obama White House, another set of rules for everyone else.

With the news that White House women are paid 87 cents on a man’s dollar, reasonable people might expect statements from feminist groups condemning the White House — or at least suggesting that President Obama raise the salaries of his female staff.

After all, feminist groups are pushing for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would require practically all employers to give to the government information on workers’ pay, by race and sex, with the goal of equalizing wages of men and women in different job classifications. This would represent, indirectly, a substantial intrusion of government into wage-setting.

But these so-called feminist groups do not really want to help women — they are more concerned about helping the Obama White House.

My calls to the National Women’s Law Center, the National Organization for Women, the American Association of University Women, and the National Committee for Pay Equity confirmed that they had no reaction to the report on their websites — only demands to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Feminist organizations describe the White House pay gap as a problem of leadership, with too few women at the top. That is also the case with the businesses that feminists wish to regulate through intrusive regulation.

Michele Leber, chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity, which organizes Equal Pay Day every April, told me in a phone conversation, “The good news is that the White House has a smaller pay gap than the country overall. It is caused by more women at lower experience levels. I don’t know that it is experience that leads to discrimination in other organizations. “

She said that her group would not be making a statement because “we do appreciate President Obama’s efforts to close the wage gap with his executive order on federal contractors.”

The American Association of University Women referred me to a blog post written in May describing the White House wage gap as a lack of women in leadership jobs. Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations, wrote, “Despite this leadership gap in the White House — a gap AAUW is monitoring closely! – we applaud the president for his recent executive order giving federal contract workers, who make up almost a quarter of the nation’s workforce, the freedom to talk about their salaries without retaliation.”

Women have equality of opportunity. But because not all make the same choices, they do not yet have equality of outcome, measured in terms of the percentage of CEOs and board directors. Since women do not make the same choices as men, equality of outcome will never happen, contrary to feminists’ wishes.

In college, more women choose to major in humanities rather than in higher-paying math and science. Full-time women work fewer hours than men, and 24 percent of women work part-time. Many women leave the workforce after childbirth, and work shorter hours afterward. Some choose flexible jobs, paying less, to enable them to combine work and family.

Brilliant Yale Law School women are already thinking ahead to family-friendly flexible jobs. This is the ninth year that Yale Law Women chose its Top Ten Family Friendly Firms. These are not firms that pay the most, but those whose benefits include part-time work, flexibility in hours, and paid maternity leave. Family flexibility rarely leads to the corner office.

The White House did not respond to my request for comment on its pay gap, even though on April 8 Obama said, “I don’t know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men, and then deny that that’s not always happening out there. If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they, in fact, do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act. “

As the president knows, federal, state, and local governments already have formidable laws and rules prohibiting discrimination in hiring and pay. Enforcement agencies, equal-opportunity commissions, prosecutors, and trial lawyers respond to reports of employment discrimination with legal actions.

Economic research on compensation, such as that by City University of New York professor June O’Neill, finds only a 5 percent gap in compensation between men and women when relevant economic factors are considered.

And by many measures, women are doing better than men. Since December 2007, the beginning of the recession, the number of employed women has increased by 1 percent (because many are employed in health care), while the number of employed men has declined by the same amount (because many work in construction).

Feminists are pushing for the Paycheck Fairness Act because they want federal bureaucrats micro-managing businesses. The larger economic reality is that more regulations will not lead to more jobs or higher pay for women. Like men, they must qualify for better-paying jobs on the basis of education, on-the-job performance, and workplace commitment.

Support for equal pay and the Paycheck Fairness Act is just a political tool that feminists use to bash Republicans. The 21st-century double standard is that an Obama White House pay gap is acceptable, but a pay gap anywhere else is a Republican War on Women.

— Diana Furchtgott-Roth is senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.


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