George Orwell, thou should’st be living at this hour-to savor the Orwellian flavor of the innocently-named Paycheck Fairness Act, which has nothing to do with fairness, and which is scheduled to come up today in the lame-duck session of the Senate.   

I have blogged on some of the problems with the act, including its potential for sending jobs overseas (here), and my colleague Romina  Boccia (here) has written about what are likely to be unintended consequences. As Romina pointed out, this is the worst possible time for such an act. We have had the longest stint of high unemployment since the 1930s. Passage of this act, on top of increased health care costs, will only make a bad situation worse.

But the strange thing is-we don’t need the act.  It’s built on the wage gap, which proponents of government regulation love to cite. According to wage gap theory, men earn more than women for similar jobs. But, as we have said many times at IWF, this doesn’t take into consideration the different choices women make. Women are more likely to take years off from the workforce to raise children or work part-time. This is reflected in what they earn.

The good news, however, is that the gap has been shrinking. As June O’Neill, former head of the Congressional Budget Office, noted last week at a Hudson Institute-sponsored conference on the act, the gap narrows as more and more women are in the workforce, having work histories more like those of men.  O’Neill recently wrote:

Women in the workplace don’t face rampant pay discrimination, and yet the Senate may soon pass a bill-already passed in the House-premised on the erroneous charge that they do. The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) would be a harmful addition to the many federal laws that already protect women and men from labor-market discrimination.

Passage of this act will lead to lawsuits, many of them unworthy but nevertheless settled out of court by companies fearful of bad publicity. The act itself also has a curious provision to train people to (let me put this bluntly) attack employers:

A particularly ridiculous provision would authorize grants to “eligible entities”-supporters of the bill like the American Association of University Women-for training women in negotiation skills. Men are excluded. But if women are the equal of men, why do only they need such training?