Part 2—But what does it mean: That famous “77 cents on the dollar” statistic is a real statistic. It’s an actual measure of an actual state of affairs.
Almost always, the familiar statistic is cited by “liberals” and Democrats. Often, it’s cited in a way which misinforms or misleads.
In January, President Obama hit the road in the wake of his State of the Union Address. In Wisconsin, he addressed a cheering crowd at a GE plant:
OBAMA (1/30/14): Today, women make up half our workforce. They're making 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That's wrong. Who said that? That's wrong. That's wrong.Obama’s overall statement was misleading. The reaction by the audience is marked in the official transcript.
It's an embarrassment. So I mentioned on Tuesday, women deserve equal pay for equal work.
We think Obama should be more clear about that statistic, but he’s hardly alone. Two years ago, Rachel Maddow got a snootful, then did Meet the Press.
On Meet the Press, she aggressively bungled about the familiar statistic. The next night, on her eponymous show, she devoted 23 minutes to keeping her viewers confused, making such statements as this:
MADDOW (4/30/12): Overall, when you aggregate everybody working, women get paid 77 cents for every dollar that men get paid. For the same work, dudes get paid more.Each of Maddow’s statements was accurate—and her use of “dudes” showed that she was delightfully being herself.
Each of Maddow’s statements was accurate—but placed together in that way, her statements were misleading.
Maddow kept this up for 23 minutes that night, assisted by a hand-picked professor. Last week, Maddow and the same professor worked the same tired old con.
Deceptive and misleading statements aren’t just for Rush and Sean any more! As the liberal world has emerged from the woods in the wake of the war in Iraq, our overpaid pundits and floundering pols have come to see the merits of this lazy, but pleasing, approach.
Traditionally, the corporate right offered misleading cant because its plutocratic policy views couldn’t be defended in any honest way. The “liberal” world is now forced to play this game for a different reason:
Our culture gods—people like Maddow—don’t know how to communicate with the bulk of the American public, even when liberal policy views are in the public’s interest. Because they don’t know how to talk to the public, they fall back on deceptions.
That famous statistic is very real. But no, it actually isn’t a measure of how much women get paid for doing “the same work as dudes.”
It’s a measure of something different. In a recent Fact Checker piece, Glenn Kessler limned it thusly:
KESSLER (4/9/14): The president is relying on a simple calculation from the Census Bureau: a ratio of the difference between women’s median earnings and men’s median earnings. (The median is the middle value, with an equal number of full-time workers earning more and earning less.) That leaves a pay gap of 23 cents.In 2009, the median income for women was only 77 percent as large as the median income for men. That may represent a real social problem. But it isn’t a measure of median income for doing the same work as dudes.
That Census Bureau statistic was for the year 2009. But uh-oh! If you turn to the world’s leading authority, you will encounter a different statistic, with the year a bit hazy:
WORLD’S LEADING AUTHORITY: Male–female income difference, also referred to as the "gender gap in earnings" in the United States, and as the "gender wage gap", the "gender earnings gap", "gender income difference" and the "gender pay gap", refers usually to the ratio of female to male median yearly earnings among full-time, year-round (FTYR) workers.Question: Does that 81 percent statistic represent relative earnings in 2009 or 2010?
The statistic is used by government agencies and economists, and is gathered by the United States Census Bureau as part of the Current Population Survey.
In 2010 the median income of FTYR workers was $42,800 for men, compared to $34,700 for women. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.81, slightly higher than the 2008 ratio. The female-to-male earnings ratio of 0.81 means that, in 2009, female FTYR workers earned 19% less than male FTYR workers.
Whatever! In the next paragraph of his post, Kessler referred to that 81 percent statistic, which differs from the more familiar 77 percent:
KESSLER (continuing directly from above): But the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the gap is 19 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages—it is 14 cents—but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers.By now, you have the right to be completely confused about the wage gap. Instead of trying to figure this out, why not let Obama and Maddow feed us the porridge we like?
Why does so much confusion surround this important state of affairs? In part, it’s because of the practices of our alleged “newspapers.”
Newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are too lazy, or perhaps too politically careful, to present careful reporting about these important statistics.
Almost surely, the famous 77-cent statistic is going to play an important role in this year’s political “debate.” But the news divisions of these newspapers have made no real attempt to explain this statistic since Obama brought it forward in the State of the Union Address.
The task has been left to opinion columns, or to slippery editorials, or to the once-a-week “fact ghetto” maintained in the Sunday Post. It’s hard to find a clear and detailed, serious attempt to explain this familiar statistic.
If you want to understand that statistic, you’re pretty much on your own! And, as last week’s events made clear, barkers like Maddow will try to confuse you about this statistic right to their dying breaths. The familiar practice of conning us rubes isn’t just for Rush any more!
In what way can that familiar statistic be misleading? Most simply put, the familiar statistic isn’t meant as a measure of discrimination.
Despite Maddow’s endless gorilla dust, no one says that the famous statistic is a measure of relative pay for “the same work.” That isn’t what the statistic measures, until the dissemblers arrive.
The famous statistic isn’t adjusted for number of hours worked. It isn’t adjusted for seniority, or even for differences in occupation.
Surely, Maddow understands this. But she keeps working to prevent viewers from getting clear on such points.
How large is the gender wage gap when basic adjustments are made? After this year’s State of the Union, Christina Hoff Sommers offered this account in the Daily Beast.
We can’t say that Sommers is “right.” But she’s much more straightforward than Maddow:
SOMMERS (2/1/14): President Obama repeated the spurious gender wage gap statistic in his State of the Union address. “Today,” he said, “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”Is Sommers’ highlighted estimate right? If you want to figure that out, don’t expect to get any help from the New York Times. The great newspaper seems too lazy, or too politically cautious, to enter such fraught terrain.
What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers.
Down through the years, various people and organizations have tried to clarify the meaning of the familiar statistic. Quite often, the sleight of hand is as prominent as the attempt at clarification.
In all that, though, one fact should be clear: No one claims that the 77 cent statistic is a measure of discrimination. No one claims that it represents a measure of pay “for doing the same work as dudes.”
How much of the gender wage gap is due to discrimination? Last week, many “liberals” were working hard to maintain the confusion surrounding that basic point.
Tomorrow, we’ll start reviewing their work. But remember—deliberate attempts at misleading us rubes aren’t just for Sean any more!
Our “liberal” leaders are conning us too. Can a true progressive politics really be fashioned this way?
Tomorrow: Keep confusion alive!