If some earn less, must it be a conspiracy?

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted July 1998

Statisticians and economists have explained again and again why women's wages still appear to lag behind men's -- that these days, such a "gap" is largely a statistical artifact, reflecting career choices and the number of consecutive years women tend to work.

Yet those with political agendas continue to ignore the obvious, and assert the absurd.

Only decades ago, it's true, women faced sizable obstacles entering any profession generally seen as a "man's job."

My Aunt Frances ran the Middletown office of the Metropolitan Insurance Company for decades. But instead of giving her the title and the salary, the company expected that every few years she would train a new, more highly-paid young man to become her "boss." When she finally gave notice, they said they couldn't spare her, and offered to triple her pay. She asked them why they hadn't done that years ago, and never looked back.

"All our girls start in the typing pool" didn't used to be just a sour joke. That was prejudice.

But that was also 30 years ago. It was not 30 years ago -- it was this week -- that the Clinton administration announced the "wage gap" between the sexes has narrowed by about three cents on the dollar since last spring. The "median weekly wage for women working full time" grew 6.6 percent in the year ending March 31, from $427 to $455, while "men's far higher wages grew by just 2.4 percent," from $582 to $596, according to the Labor Department.

As a result, women earned "76 cents for every dollar men made in the first quarter of 1998," compared with 73 cents during the same period of 1997, Rick McGahey, the Labor Department's assistant secretary for policy, told The Associated Press on June 8.

President Clinton claimed some credit for this mild improvement at a White House event on June 10, where he commemorated the Equal Pay Act (outlawing wage discrimination) signed by President Kennedy in 1963.

Since women still tend to be concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs, explained Mr. McGahey, last summer's boost in the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour helped improve their earning power compared with men.

This is nonsense. Sure, some men and women who used to earn $4.85 now earn $5.15. But it's also true that when jobs paying less than $5.15 per hour were outlawed (that's what "minimum wage laws" actually do), some of those low-skilled workers were laid off and replaced with robot potato-fryers. If "women still tend to be concentrated" in such jobs, how many of those folks were women? And I bet they sure appreciate the "help," too.

"Pay discrimination still exists," Mr. McGahey says.

If so, I wonder who at the Labor Department have been failing to enforce the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and why they have not been fired and replaced?

In fact, what is being described is not "discrimination" -- a director of human resources hiring a man and woman on the same day to work the same job, and starting the woman at three-quarters the pay -- but rather a difference in net earnings over the course of a career, which is a very different thing.

"As women get more experience in the work force and better education, we think the gap will continue to close," says Mr. McGahey.

Why? Why would mere "experience and education" cause evil misogynists to suddenly become more "fair"?

Truth is, "full time," in Labor Department parlance, can refer to workers laboring as little as 20 hours per week. While men are more likely to work overtime, women with children are far more likely to work these half-time jobs, thus depressing "women's median weekly wages." Is the boss to blame for giving them this option?

Women are also more likely to interrupt their careers for several years for child-rearing. Even if they do return to work, for the rest of their lives they will have less experience and fewer cumulative raises under their belts. Is this "discrimination"?

And finally there's the question of career choice. Men are far more likely to take college classes in engineering, while classes in art appreciation and medieval French culture tend to be dominated by women.

Would more men study medieval French furniture if they thought they could land a $40 000 job in that field, and thus make themselves a more attractive prospect for marriage? Who knows? What we do know is that the average woman -- unlike the average man -- is far less likely to find herself considered an unattractive candidate for marriage, just because she exercised an academic option which everyone knew would leave her less likely to ever earn high pay.

If there's any "discrimination" there, it's the continued assumption -- even in this era of supposed "sexual equality" -- that a man (unlike a woman) had darned well better knuckle down and find something that will support his family, even if that high-pressure job shortens his life with ulcers or high blood pressure ... and who cares if he'd rather be out antique-shopping?

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at vin@lvrj.com. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

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