Economy & Business

A New Date for Equal Pay Day — but the Same Old Misleading Data

(Photo: Iofoto/Dreamstime)
The female–male wage gap is shrinking, and most of what remains is not due to sexism.

According to the National Pay Equity Committee, Equal Pay Day — the feminist-created holiday meant to signify how far into the year women have to work to make up for last year’s wage gap — falls on April 4 this year. That’s the first Tuesday of the month, rather than the second Tuesday, as it has been in years past.

Is this a nod to women’s progress, and recognition that women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s has crept up in recent years? Perhaps. But then again, maybe not.

Accuracy about statistics has never been this movement’s strong suit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 the average full-time working woman earned 83 percent of what the average full-time working man earned. That’s up from about 80 percent in 2004. If you assume that the 2016 wage gap is roughly the same as 2015 and follow the Equal Pay Day math, then women would need to work about 44 more days in 2017. Allowing for weekends and holidays, that means Equal Pay Day should have taken place in the second week of March, not April.

But the far bigger flaw in Equal Pay Day logic is the assumption that the Department of Labor statistic showing the differences in men and women’s average earnings is evidence of discrimination’s role in our economy. The holiday’s champions use the mantras “equal pay for equal work” and “83 cents on the dollar” to imply that women are regularly being paid less than men for the same work.

That’s just not what the statistic tells us. The Department of Labor doesn’t compare two co-workers, one male and one female, but rather simply tallies up the median earnings of all full-time working women and all full-time working men and compares the two.

The Department of Labor ignores, for example, that the average man working full-time spends two hours more each week on the job than does the average full-time working woman. It shouldn’t be a surprise — or considered unfair — that someone who works longer hours also earns more money. They also don’t take into account differences in industry, years of experience, education, and specialty. Men suffer the overwhelming majority of workplace deaths and major injuries. To get people to take on dangerous and physically grueling jobs, businesses have to sweeten the pot with higher pay. Men even have longer commutes on average than women do. They often take on the extra commuting burden in order to take a job that pays more.

In studies that take these and other relevant factors into account, the wage gap shrinks, leaving just a few percentage points unexplained. People can debate why men and women continue to make such different choices about work, and why women end up making choices that lead to lower pay. Undoubtedly, the extra responsibilities women take on at home are a big part of the equation. Understanding how these decisions affect earnings and expected earnings in the future is important information for people — particularly young women — to have as they plan their careers and family life.

And of course discrimination remains a factor in some workplaces, which is why there are laws on the books that allow workers to sue employers who treat them unfairly. We need to continue to encourage businesses to provide equal opportunity and treatment to men and women.

Yet the public should reject the tired logic of the feminist movement that seems intent on denying that women ever make any progress and convincing the next generation of women that America is overwhelmingly sexist and they are doomed to being consistently shortchanged. Why else would they insist on exaggerating issues like the wage gap and misleading the public about what these statistics mean?

The good news is that women are an increasingly educated and accomplished segment of our society; they are becoming leaders in business, academia, and the political sphere, as well as leading their communities, nurturing the next generations, and creating new paradigms for balancing work and family life. Now that’s something to celebrate.

— Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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