Also, should liberals be honest: A few weeks ago, we mentioned Katie McDonough’s somewhat peculiar piece about the gender wage gap. To read that piece, click here.
It seemed to us that McDonough had cherry-picked a single study (from 2003) to keep a favorite claim alive—the claim that women “still earn around 80 percent of men’s wages” for doing the same or equal work.
We said we’d return to the topic. A news report in today’s New York Times provides the perfect chance.
It also displays a certain type of lazy work one often finds in the Times.
How large is the gender wage gap, defined in whatever way? And should liberals feel an obligation to be truthful about this topic?
This is one of the most muddled topics in our current discourse. Here’s the way Shear and Lowrey start today’s report:
SHEAR AND LOWREY (4/8/14): President Obama on Tuesday will call attention to what he has said is an “embarrassment” in America: the fact that women make, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns.Oops. Obama keeps citing the preferred statistic—“the fact that women make, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns.”
But critics of the administration are eager to turn the tables and note that Mr. Obama’s White House fares only slightly better. A study released in January showed that female White House staff members make on average 88 cents for every dollar a male staff member earns.
That statistic is basically true, though it may be misleading. As we noted a few weeks back, it looks like this statistic is going to be a political rallying cry this year, even though many people may not understand it.
But uh-oh! According to Shear and Lowrey, a study shows that women who work in the White House make only 88 cents for every dollar a man earns there. On its face, that looks embarrassing, given Obama's crusade!
Should that statistic be embarrassing? Not necessarily, no.
A bit later in their report, Shear and Lowrey try to puzzle this out. Rather, they present a classic journalistic “he said/he said” concerning these statistics.
Spokesmen from the two major parties are given their chance to speak. Shear and Lowrey make no attempt to sort this out themselves:
SHEAR AND LOWREY: Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, said the statistics for White House staff members reflect the fact that women fill more lower-level positions than men. But he said that women and men in the same positions at the White House are paid the same, and that many of the women hold senior positions.Carney says the new study’s statistic is misleading. In turn, Buck says Obama’s statistic is misleading.
He said that the 88-cent statistic was misleading because it aggregates the salaries of White House staff members at all levels, including the lowest levels, where women outnumber men.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, said the 77-cent statistic that Mr. Obama has often cited was misleading for the same reason, because it aggregates salaries for the American workforce. “The wage gap is real, but the White House does itself a disservice—and embarrasses itself in the process—by grasping for misleading statistics that don’t tell the whole story,” Mr. Buck said.
As far as we know, both are right. Here’s why:
That iconic figure –77 cents on the dollar—is not a measure of pay to women for doing “the same or equal work.” It’s a measure of total annual income for men and women who are employed full-time.
When adjustments are made for hours worked, seniority and other factors, the wage gap turns out to be less than that “for the same or equal work.” We’re fairly sure that everyone agrees on that basic fact.
So how big is the gender wage gap for doing “the same or equal work?” And should liberals feel the need to be truthful about such a basic statistic?
As a way of considering both questions, we recommend a presentation by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which pretty much everyone regards as a “liberal” group.
On March 10, the AAUW created a detailed mini-site about the gender wage gap. Title included, this is the way it starts:
The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (2014)That synopsis promises to “go beyond the widely reported 77 percent statistic.” On the other hand, the statistic is instantly on display, getting drummed into everyone’s head all over again.
March 10, 2014: You’ve probably heard that men are paid more than women are paid over their lifetimes. But what does that mean? Are women paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs? Is it because more women work part time than men do? Or is it because women tend to be the primary caregivers for their children?
AAUW’s The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap succinctly addresses these issues by going beyond the widely reported 77 percent statistic. The report explains the pay gap in the United States; how it affects women of all ages, races, and education levels; and what you can do to close it.
At what point does the AAUW “go beyond” that statistic? In truth, you have to go very deep into this report before you start to gain a perspective on what that statistic actually means.
It looks to us like the AAUW is trying to bury its clarification. It looks to us like the AAUW may be trying to have it all ways.
To what extent does the AAUW help us “go beyond the widely reported 77 percent statistic?” On the report’s front page, you see a list of eight bullet points, each of which is quite gloomy. The first of these bullet points reinforces that common statistic again:
The pay gap hasn’t budged in a decade.These eight bullet-points are followed by three bullet-pointed recommendations. Nowhere is there any attempt to explain why we need to “go beyond the widely reported 77 percent statistic.”
In 2012, as in 2002, among full-time, year-round workers, women were paid 77 percent of what men were paid.
Indeed, a person has to work pretty hard to find any discussion or clarification of that famous statistic. You have to click ahead to a different page to reach the following advisory, which appears third in a list of five more bullet points:
AAUW: When you account for all factors known to affect pay, women are still paid almost 7 percent less than men just one year after college—and the gap only grows from there.We’re not sure what the second part of that sentence means. But everyone seems to agree that the actual gender wage gap is something like 7 cents on the dollar “when you account for all factors known to affect pay”—if we’re talking about “the same or equal work.”
Or at least, that’s our basic impression. Things get harder from here:
To our eye, this AAUW site tried fairly hard to avoid reporting the size of the gap “for the same or equal work.” That same thing happened in 2012, when Rachel Maddow mistakenly said, on Meet the Press, that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar “for doing the same work.”
The next evening, Maddow said she had no idea why her statement had been challenged. She then presented an expert, who emitted this verbal jumble:
MADDOW (4/30/12): I know that you at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, you have done some of the most important and most highly publicized work on this issue. Is there any way that the idea of a gender- based disparity is something that depends on how you look at it? Is this something other than a blunt truth about the American economy?We’ll admit that we no longer understand what that expert was saying. Did she mean that “you can’t explain” twenty percent of the 23-cent wage gap? Or did she mean that “you can’t explain” 20 cents on the dollar?
HARTMANN: Well, I mean, you obviously have by far the better part of the argument. You’ve got the Census Bureau and, I might mention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics agreeing with you. Oh, also, I could mention, the U.S. General Accountability Office.
I think what the issue is for the Republicans is that they believe that that’s not—no matter how big the wage gap is, almost none of it is due to discrimination. And of course, these numbers from BLS and Census Bureau are not really talking about discrimination. But the GAO study that I just mentioned did. They said that even when you put everything you can possibly think of in the regression equations, the statistical analyses to try to make that gap go away, you can’t explain at least 20 percent of it.
Now, most other studies place the part you can’t explain as a quarter to a half. So, a large part of the gap probably is due to discrimination. But that seems to be what the debate is.
We’ve always assumed she meant the former—that the unexplained wage gap is something like six cents on the dollar (twenty percent of 23 cents). We assumed that was what she meant because that seems to jibe with what most experts seem to say, and because the second part of her statement doesn’t make sense the other way.
(“Most other studies place the part you can’t explain as a quarter to a half.” Has anyone ever said that women get paid half as much for doing the same work?)
We thought this expert had said, in a jumbled way, that you can’t explain something like 20 percent of the gap—something like six cents on the dollar.
We’re now unsure what she meant. (The professors fail us again!) This returns us to our original questions: Once you make the basic adjustments, how large is the gender wage gap for “the same or equal work?”
We’d love to see someone answer that question in a forum which produces some basic agreement about the most basic facts.
As we close, let’s consider the work done in today’s New York Times. Shouldn’t the Times explain the basic facts in a way we can all understand?
The Times assigned two reporters to today’s news report. But wouldn’t you know it? In their 800 words, they made no attempt to provide their own assessment or overview concerning that widely-cited statistic—77 cents on the dollar.
In perfect “he said/he said” fashion, they quoted Carney and Buck. They also quoted Obama, and they quoted the new report.
The even quoted Heidi Hartmann, the expert Maddow “interviewed” in 2012. But they never provided their own overview of this statistical morass:
How much less are women paid “for doing the same or equal work?” Shear and Lowrey made no attempt to tell their readers. They simply quoted a bunch of people, then ran for the corner bar.
Meanwhile, over at Salon, Joan Walsh is playing her usual role. She’s creating a state of total confusion concerning this basic question.
Needless to say, she’s calling the other party names as she does this.
Pitifully, Walsh cites the study by the AAUW. But she skips the part where the AAUW “addresses these issues by going beyond the widely reported 77 percent statistic.”
She never explains that the famous statistic isn’t meant as a measure of pay for “the same or equal work.” That’s the point the GOP is making in the statements she calls lies.
We assume Walsh is creating this confusion on purpose. We assume she isn’t that dumb.
Do you think liberals like Walsh should be honest concerning such basic questions? If you do, Walsh herself may not be the person to read.