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Two Ways to Hurt Women in the Workplace


Obama looks to close wage gap while paying female staffers less than men

Two Ways to Hurt Women in the Workplace
Amy Payne
April 8, 2014 at 6:30 am

Today is “Equal Pay Day” for those who believe that The Man is keeping women down.

Convincing people that injustice is taking place is a great way to push your policy agenda—and that’s where “Equal Pay Day” comes from. It’s the left’s claim that women in America are paid only about 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.

But as Foundry Senior Contributor Genevieve Wood has explained, that talking point comes from creative—not accurate—comparisons.

The problem with the 77 percent statistic, calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau, is that it doesn’t compare the salaries of women and men in the same profession. Instead, it lumps all professions together. So, if high school teachers make less than congressmen (talk about something that ought to be fixed!), and there are more women who are teachers and more men in the U.S. Congress, then yes, the numbers will show that men make more than women. But if you compare the salary of a congresswoman to a congressman, guess what? They make the same.

In fact, sex-based discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since 1963. And since then, “Women have not only caught up to men in many professional endeavors; single, young women are outperforming their male counterparts in urban areas,” says Heritage’s Romina Boccia, the Grover M. Hermann Fellow. “No surprise there, as women already earn more bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees than men do.”

Equal Pay Day is supposed to be about boosting women, but President Obama and his allies are taking the opportunity to push two policy proposals that would hurt women (and men) in the workplace.

1. Raising the minimum wage.

The White House is pushing the idea that a minimum wage increase would help women, because women make up the majority of the workforce in several low-wage industries. What that actually means, however, is that hiking the minimum wage would deal a blow to women—since those are the jobs that would be lost with a wage hike. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would kill off 500,000 jobs—and the Employment Policies Institute projects that 57 percent of those jobs are held by women.

2. Mandating “paycheck fairness.”

Another bad idea Congress has rejected in the past is surfacing again: the “Paycheck Fairness Act.” But a law already exists that prohibits discrimination based on a worker’s sex—it’s called the Equal Pay Act, and it’s been law since 1963. So what would the Paycheck Fairness Act do for women’s pay?

Heritage labor expert James Sherk explains that the proposal is more about inviting lawsuits than anything else.

the PFA allows employees to sue businesses that pay different workers different wages—even if those differences have nothing to do with the employees’ sex. These lawsuits can be brought for unlimited damages, giving a windfall to trial lawyers.

How would it hurt workers? Well, you can’t get a raise for being a high-performing employee—male or female—if it’s mandated that everyone with the same job title makes the same salary. Sherk notes the downward pressure it would put on pay:

Companies should be allowed to reward good performance without risking a lawsuit. Punishing companies that do not adopt uniform pay scales would cut the wages of both men and women.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will bring up both of these policies this week, and President Obama is signing executive orders that will increase the amount of information available about federal contractors’ salaries in the name of “equal pay.”

It’s policies like this that are keeping all American workers down.

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