Some Democratic politicians are attempting to appeal to women by resurrecting one of the worst policy ideas in recent history: comparable worth. As the Hudson Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth describes in today’s New York Sun, this policy would have bureaucrats assigning wages to various job sectors to the great detriment of the economy:
[This legislation] instructs the secretary of labor to “develop guidelines to enable employers to evaluate job categories.” Employers would not be required to comply with the guidelines, although surely there would be pressure to do so. Onerous as these provisions are, the Fair Pay Act goes further.
Consider a large firm such as Exxon. Would it have to pay clerical workers, mostly women, as much as it pays refinery hands, mostly men? With such “equality,” who would be willing to work at the distant, more dangerous jobs in the refinery?
Mr. Harkin’s bill would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to define male- and female-dominated occupations and review wage reports of firms with more than 25 employees, “including information with respect to the sex, race, and national origin of employees at each wage rate in each classification, position, job title, or other wage group.”
Into how many categories would the commission divide hospital jobs? Bank jobs? Insurance jobs? Would employers with, say, 40 employees split themselves into two companies to escape the paperwork? Wages change constantly and job classifications are imperfect, and can be changed. Employers might not know the race and national origin of workers, and workers might not want to be asked.
For better or for worse, our economic system rewards workers on the basis of how much employers are willing to pay for their service. There is no other measure of a job’s “inherent value.”
Although Congress has not enacted comparable worth, a few states, such as Washington and Minnesota, have done so on state and local government operations. The extra funding for increased women’s salaries comes from the taxpayers and does not cause the governmental entity to go out of business. Requiring private businesses to adopt comparable worth would raise costs of hiring, hurting women?s opportunities.
“Comparable worth” is based on an assumption that women are inferior and weak, chronic victims, and unable to succeed on their own, and so need government wage protection.
Clearly, women and men are better off when the market determines wages. After all, we all know that how much a job pays isn’t the only factor that we consider when we assess potential job opportunities. We all consider other factors like the number the hours of work, if we personally will find the work interesting, how long our commute will be, the amount of travel required, the workplace environment, the dress code, the potential for advancement, the flexibility, and many others. No one can know how much value any individual places on each of those attributes, which is why we need to let individuals-not the government-sort it out.