In an effort to shore up their female base, Senate Democrats are planning on a few symbolic votes, including an “equal pay measure” to try to mandate “fair” wages. The problem is not just that a Republican-dominated House means the effort is doomed from the start. Nor that Americans increasingly recognize that the stale 77-cent “wage gap” statistic liberal feminists and Democrats cite as evidence of widespread workplace discrimination is grossly misleading. The biggest problem with Democrats’ plan isn’t even that the Paycheck Fairness Act was voted down in the Senate as recently as April, by a vote of 53-44.
The real reason why the Paycheck Fairness Act will fail both in Congress and as a political ploy is that Americans want smarter and more creative approaches to overcoming societal challenges.
A new book released this month by the Independent Women’s Forum, Lean Together, shows in 12 chapters all written by women, that truly helping women and their families starts with refashioning the role of government and our communities.
For too long progressives have put forth a vision of America in which Washington is the solution to all of society’s ills – big and small – with little consideration to how their intervention might have negative impacts. While women and girls have tremendous opportunities to succeed in America today, challenges remain that disproportionately affect women, especially less educated, unmarried mothers.
But the hardships that many women face can’t be solved through more workplace legislation the way so many liberal feminists and their Democratic champions in Congress suggest. In fact, most proposals offered by the Left – from raising the minimum wage to mandating “equal pay” – would be counterproductive, making women more expensive to employ and giving all workers less choice and flexibility in the workplace.
What’s more, over the past six years Americans have become reacquainted with the broken promises of big government, from the failed stimulus, to wasteful “green energy” loans, to Obamacare’s most notorious “if you like you plan you can keep it” whopper. The country has great reason to be skeptical when Democrats suggest that Washington yet again knows best when it comes to women’s problems.
Most Americans now intuitively understand that the small gap that exists in men and women’s wages is not a result of broad-based gender bias; rather it’s a function of different choices men and women make, and primarily women’s choices to take time out of the workplace to raise children. And Americans know that proposed “fixes” to this problem are doomed to fail, and can cause great economic harm in the process.
Democrats are right to take gender seriously – something Republicans still fail to do – but they’re taking the wrong tact to solving these problems. Better to understand that the workplace is changing – quickly and for the better. Providing sensible leave policies, as well as more generous benefits like tuition aid and day care backups are increasing as businesses seek out smart ways to attract and retain valuable female workers. And where the private sector may still lag behind, there is a robust industry devoted to helping women achieves higher pay. Let’s remember that Sheryl Sandberg was not the first woman to write the “rules for success.”
Washington lawmakers should always remember the admonition “first do no harm.” That’s why their priority should not be pandering to women with “equal pay” legislation that is destined, thankfully, to go nowhere. Instead government can make it easier for women – and men – by encouraging job creation and reducing the burdens they place on parents. Implementing more mandates and costly government regulations simply rewards one set of choices (such as working full-time) over another. Instead, policymakers ought to seek out ways to allow more working families to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. We ought to consolidate programs geared to helping parents and return resources to families in the form of lower tax payments across the board.
Ensuring that there is a robust job market and increasing families’ take-home pay can give more women and men the ability to make the individual choices about how best to balance their career, family, and other life goals.
Like other parts of society, the workplace isn’t perfect, and there is still more we can do to make life easier for working mothers. Still, women today have an unprecedented opportunity to succeed in their careers and to design a lifestyle that suits their needs and wants, and those of their families – and that’s something to be recognized, protected, and celebrated. This progress, however, can easily be overturned by an overly ambitious state that seeks to try to legislate “perfection.”
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women's Forum and a contributor to the book Lean Together: An Agenda for Smarter Government, Stronger Communities, and More Opportunity for Women.