Gender wage gap progress slowed under Obama, report says

By Michael P. Tremoglie | May 31, 2012


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A statistic that is at the core of the Democratic Party's argument to pass a piece of legislation that opponents say is election-year pandering could backfire on it.

The data indicates the gender wage gap narrowed more during the Bush years than both the Obama and Clinton eras.

The U.S. Senate is scheduling a vote on legislation that is seen by some as an election-year political ploy rather than a legal reform. The "Paycheck Fairness Act" has many advocates - but it has many opponents as well.

Some critics say it is nothing but vote-pandering. Proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act say that the gender wage gap proves that the legislation is necessary. But during the Obama administration, the narrowing of the gender pay gap has slowed dramatically despite legislation designed to prevent sex discrimination.

According to a study by the liberal feminist Institute for Women's Policy Research titled, "The Gender Wage Gap, 2011," (updated in March), the "ratio of women's and men's median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers, was 77.4 in 2010 (data for 2011 is not yet available), less than half of a percentage point higher than that in 2009." This means the annual gender wage gap for full-time year-round workers is a little less than 23 percent.

But according to this same report, during the Bush administration, the gender wage gap closed dramatically - much more than it did during either the Clinton or Obama administrations. This is disconcerting to those who want to use this statistic to claim women fare better during Democratic presidencies than Republican administrations.

The ratio of women's and men's median annual earnings for full-time year-round workers was 73.7 in 2000 - the last year of the Clinton administration. By George W. Bush's second year office in 2002, it rose significantly to 76.6 - an increase of 2.9 points.

"Changes in the gender gap slowed during the last 10 years," said Jeff Hayes Senior Research Associate for IWP. "There are a lot of factors such as recessions that can affect these things. Wages and the wage gap have flattened out in recent years. Improvement has stalled. It slowed greatly."

But this does not explain why the gap narrowed less during the 1990s - the putative Clinton economic boom years - than it did during the Bush years.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the figure was 77.1. Two years into the Obama administration, it is 77.4. This is an increase of only 0.3 points, or about one-tenth of that of the Bush administration's increase of 2.9 points.

This is also consistent with the IWP's findings during the 1990s. The gender wage gap went from 70.8 in 1992 - the last year of President George H.W. Bush - to 73.7 in 2000, the last year of Clinton.

But it went from 73.7 in 2000 to 77.1 in 2008 George W. Bush's last year office. This occurred despite what the Democrats proclaimed was the worst economy since the 1930's.

Experts say the gender wage gap is not really a function of discrimination in the workplace.

"A large fraction of the gender wage gap is determined by women's choices," said Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University. "You do not see many women working in coal mines, for example, which is a relatively high-paying job. Most of the gender wage gap can be explained by occupational choice and choice of hours rather than discrimination."

Tabarrok's sentimentswere echoed by that of Diana Furchtgott-Roth, who was the chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor from February 2003 until April 2005. She also served as chief of staff and special adviser at the Council of Economic Advisers from 2001- 2003.

While a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, she testified at a hearing before the Senate Joint Economic Committee on April 28, 2009.

Addressing the issue of gender wage gaps, she said, "These wage ratios are computed from aggregate government data and do not take into account differences in education, job title and responsibility, regional labor markets, work experience, occupation, and time in the workforce."

She also noted in a column she wrote in the July 23, 2010, edition of the San Francisco Examiner, she argued, "Male supermarket managers with college degrees couldn't be paid more than female cashiers if the college degree for the manager wasn't consistent with 'business necessity."

Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is a fervid opponent of the Paycheck Fairness Act, wrote in its blog Open Market that it would produce the opposite of what its proponents say it would.

"The Paycheck Fairness Act would effectively mandate equal pay for unequal work, not equal pay for equal work as its supporters claim," he wrote.

"I think the gender wage gap statistic is specious," said James Sherk an economist at the Heritage Foundation. "But if one wants to use this statistic to justify things like the Paycheck Fairness Act, then one has to live with it when it shows that the gap narrows more during Republican than Democratic administrations."

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Organizations in this Story

Competitive Enterprise Institute The Heritage Foundation U.S. Department of Labor

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