What Conservatives Think #012604: Civil Rights: Should Government Make Sure Women are Paid as Much as Men?

The Left Says:

It is ever so Out these days to raise a peep about discrimination against women. If you are so unfashionable as to complain, you are promptly labeled a whiner. Hip young post-feminists will advise you to get over your ‘victim psychology,’ Dr. Laura will tell you to pull up your socks, and the women’s magazines will advise you to try sexy lingerie for your problems. Of course, more women could afford sexy lingerie if we weren’t still the victims of wage discrimination.”

Source: Molly Ivins, “Class Warfare and the Decline of Feminism,” www.progressivetrail.org, January 2, 2004

What Conservatives Think:

One is reminded of the boy who cried “wolf!” If one could go a day or two without hearing a discrimination complaint, discrimination claims might be taken more seriously.

The left-wing has complained about so-called “pay equity” for years. As the U.S. Senate’s Republican Policy Committee has pointed out, however: “The average wage gap between men and women is 26 cents (and falling). But this figure does not account for factors unrelated to sex discrimination that affect income: age, education, occupation, number of years in the workforce, and experience. Controlling for these factors shows women are actually paid 98 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The remaining 2-cent adjusted wage gap could be caused by sex discrimination, but it could also be caused by measuring errors, unaccounted for differences between men and women, or a combination of these factors. The 2-cent adjusted wage gap could also be more than made up for by the non-monetary benefits of female-dominated jobs, including better supervisors, fewer risks, easier commutes, and more flexible hours. Former Congressional Budget Office Director June O’Neill writes, ‘When earnings comparisons are restricted to men and women more similar in their experience and life situations, the measured earnings differentials are typically quite small.'”(1)

If there is a pay equity problem, however, the left’s solutions are far worse than any problem. Proposals such as those introduced in Congress by Rep. Rose DeLauro(2) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton(3) in the House and Senator Tom Daschle in the Senate(4) would create a flurry of lawsuits and much work for trial lawyers and government employees. Conservatives suspect this is no accident.

It is worth noting that wage discrimination on the basis of gender already is illegal. The government has structures in place to assure that a woman doing the same job as a man receives the same compensation. What the left seeks is a government mechanism to assure that persons in female-dominated professions are paid as much as people in male-dominated professions.

The philosophical issue involved is this: Liberals believe it ultimately is the responsibility of federal government to assure “fair” wage rates, while conservatives believe this is neither true nor wise. Wage rates are properly negotiated between employer and employee. Employers who do not provide adequate compensation will find themselves with a shortage of workers. Any other standard is subjective.

Another way to put it: The left believes both government employees and trial lawyers have a superior ability to set fair wage rates than do traditional supply and demand mechanisms. The right disagrees.

Ironically, because the law of supply and demand ultimately can never be repealed, pay equity laws (also called “comparable worth” proposals) are likely to increase unemployment rates for women by raising wage rates in female-dominated professions beyond what the market will bear.

Sources and notes:

(1) “Gore-Daschle ‘Paycheck Fairness’ Pays Off Trial Lawyers, Invites Wage Controls,” U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, April 5, 1999, available at http://rpc.senate.gov/~rpc/releases/1999/lb040599.htm as of 1/3/04.

(2) H. R. 1688, which had 104 co-sponsors as of 1/3/04.

(3) H.R. 1695, which had 19 co-sponsors as of 1/3/04.

(4) S. 16, which had 27 co-sponsors as of 1/3/04 and also S. 76, which had 20 co-sponsors as of 1/3/04.


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