October 12 2011
National Review Online -- The Corner
Carrie L. Lukas
The Left can be expected to trot out tired tropes about the how U.S. society works, whether it’s that the rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes or that our public schools are crumbling from a lack of funds. That’s what they do. It’s frustrating, however, when those conservatives fall for these platitudes, giving them an aura of mainstream truth and paving the way for government action based on false premises.
Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R., Wyo.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R., Wa.) seem to have fallen into that trap as they co-host a luncheon tomorrow with the Women’s Policy, Inc. to discuss the topic, “The Gender Wage Gap: What Is the Impact on Women and their Families?” They’ll be welcoming a panel that includes the director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor, the former chair of the EEOC, the president of the Michigan League of Human Service, and a director from the liberal American Association of University Women.
When asked about their participation, Rep. Herrera Beutler’s office responded that “the Congresswoman does not definitively know why a wage gap exists between men and women. Any combination of causes could be the reason for the gap, and that is why she is co-sponsoring a series of discussions on the topic. She is not supporting legislation to increase government activism on this issue, and hopes to facilitate full and open conversations between people of differing viewpoints.”
Yet this particular panel is hardly a cast likely to challenge the presumption that the “wage gap” is caused by discrimination. And that’s a premise that needs to be challenged. While Rep. Herrera Beutler is right that uncertainty remains about the exact causes of the wage gap, we do know that the Left’s chant that “women earn 75 cents for every man’s dollar” is grossly misleading.
Yes, the median wage of a full-time working woman is about three-quarters of that of a full-time working man. But that statistic doesn’t account for variables such as occupation, hours worked, years of experience, specialty, or education, to name a few factors that we know influence earnings. And we also know that when such factors are taken into account, the wage gap shrinks, and in some cases, even disappears.
An honest discussion of the causes of the wage gap would be welcome. Some have suggested that women are more hesitant than men to negotiate starting salaries and raises, which could be a lasting drag on women’s earnings. That’s good information for women to have. It’s something women can keep in mind when considering our next career change. We can teach our daughters to be more proactive in discussing money.
Yet this panel’s title suggests that it won’t focus on what factors drive the wage gap, but on the outcome (most likely the grievous harm) of this well-established, sexist phenomenon. Those outcomes are then used by big government advocates to call for government intervention that’s wasteful at best, and economically counter-productive at worst.
Our Department of Education pushes aside evidence that boys (particularly boys from minority and lower-income communities) are failing academically while doubling down on girl-power programs designed to boost female achievement in math, science, and engineering, disciplines that skew male.
Legislation has been advanced to give the Department of Labor more power to micromanage how businesses compensate employees. For now, they claim to just want to assess how employers make decisions and offer government “guidelines” for what constitutes fair pay. Yet how easy it will be for those guidelines to transform into law.
Facilitating another feminist pow-wow to lament the patriarchy’s oppression of the weaker sex also sends the wrong message to young women. Walking around with a chip on your shoulder and expectations that the world will mistreat you is hardly the most promising path to success.
The Republican representatives sanctioning this discussion may sincerely oppose the big-government solutions that are advanced in the name of eradicating the wage gap, and simply want a robust discussion about what determines men and women’s earnings. They are unlikely to accomplish that tomorrow, and instead are helping lend legitimacy to those who see the world as overwhelmingly sexist and government as women’s only protection from it.