(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/04/obama45.jpg)“When more women are bringing home the bacon, but bringing home less of it than men who are doing the same work, that weakens families, it weakens communities, it’s tough on our kids, it weakens our entire economy.” Thus said President Obama at a recent “women and the economy” event at the White House, where he portrayed American women as victims of pervasive wage discrimination in the workplace.
This theme was nothing new for our president. Indeed it was but an echo of what he had said during his 2010 State of the Union speech—that it was imperative “to crack down” on the purportedly widespread “violations of equal-pay laws so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.” That, in turn, was but an echo of what Obama had said just nine days after his inauguration, when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law making it easier for women to sue employers for pay discrimination: “It is a story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every $1 [that] men earn, women of color even less.” And that, in turn, was itself an echo of Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to eliminate the gender “pay gap” by taking concrete “steps to better enforce the Equal Pay Act, fight job discrimination, and … give women equal footing in the workplace.”
In the last presidential election, this type of rhetoric earned Obama the devotion of left-wing feminists from coast to coast. Vicky Lovell, a director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, lauded Obama for projecting “empathy for women’s financial struggles,” and for understanding that “women are more economically vulnerable than men.” Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, likewise praised Obama for articulating a plan to pass “essential legislation that provides basic fairness in the workplace.”
To be sure, such sentiments would have considerable merit if not for a single, stubbornly inconvenient detail: The contention that women are underpaid by American employers in comparison to men is demonstrably untrue. A complete fiction. A gargantuan lie, actually. As longtime employment lawyer Warren Farrell, who served as a board member of the National Organization for Women from 1970 to 1973, explains in his book Why Men Earn More, the 22-cent “pay gap” is neither a result of gender bias nor workplace discrimination. It can be explained entirely by the fact that women as a group tend to make certain very logical and legitimate employment-related choices which, while affording them a number of benefits that they value highly, tend to suppress incomes—for reasons that are also logical and legitimate.
Consider some pertinent facts. Far more often than men, women tend to seek employment in fields that are non-technical or which involve the social—as opposed to the physical—sciences. Moreover, they seek employment in fields that: offer a high level of physical safety; involve work that is performed indoors as opposed to outdoors (where bad weather can make working conditions poor); feature a pleasant and socially dynamic working environment; are characterized by lower levels of emotional turbulence; offer desirable shifts or flexible working hours; and require fewer working hours per week or fewer working days per year. As well, women tend to gravitate toward fields that do not require long commutes; men on average commute 36% farther to get to work, a fact that translates into about $1,500 in extra annual pay. Similarly, women are more inclined to pursue jobs that do not require geographic relocation—the result being that females make up only 18% of all workers who are transferred abroad by their employers.
Such advantages come at a cost; they make certain fields more attractive and thus expand the pool of applicants to a point that, in some cases, exceeds the demand for services. This, in turn, exerts a downward pressure on salaries. Yet this tradeoff is quite acceptable to many working women: Only 29% of women, versus 76% of men, report that their primary motivation for working is to “build wealth.” Research has shown repeatedly that women are more likely to pursue jobs that they perceive to be socially useful, while men, for various reasons, tend to give greater emphasis to money.
An even more significant cause of the gender pay gap is that women tend to compile fewer years of uninterrupted service in their jobs than men. Indeed, women are far more likely to leave the workforce for extended periods in order to attend to family-related matters such as raising children. This is simply a life choice to forego some degree of financial reward in exchange for the emotional reward of being an at-home parent, whether full-time or part-time. During the course of their overall work lives, men accumulate an extra 5 to 9 years on the job as compared to their female counterparts, and each of those additional years translates to approximately 3 or 4 percent more in annual pay.
When all of the above variables are factored into the equation, the gender pay gap disappears entirely. That is, when men and women work at jobs where their titles, their responsibilities, their qualifications, and their experience are equivalent, they are paid exactly the same.
By no means is this a new phenomenon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was true even three decades ago. In fact, even in the 1950s, the pay gap between men and never-married women (i.e., those women who were unlikely to have temporarily left the work force in order to raise children) was less than 2%. Never-married white women actually earned 6% more than never-married white men a half-century ago.
One would think that a president so widely reputed to possess a keen and searing intellect would be at least remotely aware of these very basic and easily verifiable truths, or with the fact that equal-pay-for-equal-work has been explicitly mandated by U.S. law since 1963. One would also be inclined to expect that such a devoted champion of justice would possess enough intellectual curiosity to ask himself, before pontificating about pay inequities in the workplace, whether there is any significance to the fact that the female staffers in his own White House earn, on average, 18% less than their male counterparts. The fact that Obama’s statements do not make even a passing reference to any of facts cited in the paragraphs above, can lead us to only two possible conclusions: Either the president is unwittingly spreading misinformation about a vital topic that he is wholly unqualified to address, or he has privately made a calculated decision to promote a fictitious narrative simply because it suits his political ambitions. Take your pick: One betrays the man’s lack of familiarity with with reality; the other betrays his lack of personal integrity.
It is highly unlikely that Obama is unaware of the facts presented above, facts that demolish his utterly unfounded claims, root-and-branch. Logic tells us that by repeating his embarrassingly shallow remarks on pay discrimination, Obama is simply performing the same three-act drama that he has performed countless times before—first as a community organizer and then as a politician: Act One: Identify various voting blocs of supposed victim groups who can be divided along lines of class, race, or gender. Act Two: “Rub raw the resentments” of those groups in precisely the manner outlined by the late Saul Alinsky, guru of all political agitators. Act Three: Cast oneself as the knight-in-shining-armor who heroically rides in to slay the exploiters and save the day for the victims.
This is what passes, nowadays, for a president.
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