Solving the pay equity problem: Not that easy

white-house-wage-gapIs the gender gap in wages a myth or is it as the President said yesterday just math?  If a company pays, as does the White House and most other government agencies, equally for the same job, why is there still a gap in total pay?  Is that as Christina Hoff Summers would argue, not a wage gap since the cause is that women are in different job?  Christopher Ingraham wrote in the Washington Post

The American Enterprise Institute caught the White House flat-footed yesterday with its finding that female White House workers earned roughly 88 cents to the dollar compared to male employees. This came the day before two high-profile executive orders aimed at narrowing the gender wage gap among federal contractors.

When asked about the discrepancy by reporters, spokesman Jay Carney said that those figures are based on the total of all staff jobs, and that women tend to fill more lower-paying positions than men. When you break it out by position, “men and women in equivalent roles here earn equivalent salaries,” Carney said. Incidentally, this is the pretty much the same argument that AEI scholar Christina Hoff Summers makes to argue that the gender wage gap is a myth.

Human Resource people (of which I was once one) would say it is all about classifying jobs.  There is an endless debate about what jobs require more skills, more effort, more responsibility.  Is the woman who comes to help your sick mother as a home health aide worth less than the man who manages the local convenience store? (Neither gets paid very well.)  Is a pre-school teacher worth less than the CEO of Facebook?  Ok.  I can hear people saying that I’m comparing apples and oranges, but these are the kind of things we need to consider as we look at not only the gender issues but also at low wage jobs generally.  If you look at the Washington Post chart, you can see that the national wage gap is pretty constant, but the general trend of the White House gap is down.

There are really several problems at work here.  First is the failure to pay women an equivalent wage for the same work done by a man.  This may be deliberate or the women may simply be given a different job title and classification.  The second is what the Institute for Women’s Policy Research calls occupational segregation.

Pay equity may also be impacted by other more subtle factors than workplace discrimination. IWPR’s research shows that, irrespective of the level of qualification, jobs predominantly done by women pay less on average than jobs predominantly done by men. Women have made tremendous strides during the last few decades by moving into jobs and occupations previously done almost exclusively by men, yet during the last decade there has been very little further progress in the gender integration of work. This persistent occupational segregation is a significant contributor to the lack of significant progress in closing the wage gap.

The third problem is one that speaks mainly to women in the private sector at high levels:  Women appear to be less willing to ask for more in salary negotiations.  While this is unimportant and insignificant, more women are hurt by the first two problems.

In the late 1970s I was working as a research analyst for the Virginia State Equal Opportunity Office.  We got a complaint from a woman professor at a state college who suspected that she was being paid less than a male colleague who started around the same time as she did.  They were, I think, both coming up for tenure.  This was the age before editable spreadsheets were common, but I managed to make a chart showing hire dates, educational levels, teaching load and teaching evaluations among other factors I can’t remember now for that department.  When laid out, it became very clear that the women, including the complainant were being paid less.  This set off a request for an analysis of the entire school as well as requests from several other state colleges and universities.  I ended up teaching people from the schools how to do this themselves since there was no way I could tackle such a large project on my own.  Problems were corrected, but I don’t recall that we ever compared  salary levels at the Department of Physics (probably mostly men) to the School of Nursing (mostly women).

I tell this story for two reasons.  One, the problem and issue has been around a long, long, time.  And second, I think we need to look harder at occupational segregation and, if we can’t totally solve that, we need to look at how we, as a society, value what we call “women’s work.”  In the end, that is the only way to cure the pay equity problem.

 

 

 

 

On the opposite sides of the Civil Rights struggle: Lindy Boggs and Robert Byrd, Jr.

This week has brought notice of the death of two political figures from the past:  Lindy Boggs and Harry Byrd, Jr.  Both in their late 90s and had been out of office and out of the news for a number of years.  But it is notable that although of similar age and from the south, they were opposites when it came to civil rights.

Lindy Boggs was the window of House Speaker Hale Boggs who died in a plane crash in Alaska.  I remember when this happened in 1972,  I was moving out of my student movement phase and beginning to take an interest in electoral politics. Boggs ran to replace him following a tradition of widows taking over for their politician husbands.   Boggs, however, was different.  She went on to serve nine terms in Congress (several of them representing a majority black district) and become a champion of women’s rights and civil rights while representing Louisiana.  The New York Times describes some of her legislative efforts.

Mrs. Boggs during her Congressional campaign in 1973

Mrs. Boggs during her Congressional campaign in 1973

The velvet Southern charm she had absorbed growing up on two Louisiana plantations was her not-so-secret weapon.

She displayed it early in her first term when the House banking committee was composing an amendment to a lending bill banning discrimination on the basis of race, age or veteran status. She added the words “sex or marital status,” ran to a copying machine and made a copy for each member.

In her memoir she recalled saying: “Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I’m sure it was just an oversight that we didn’t have ‘sex’ or ‘marital status’ included. I’ve taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee’s approval.”

Thus was sex discrimination prohibited by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

I always loved that story.

Mrs. Boggs used her membership on the Appropriations Committee to push for other women’s economic concerns, like equal pay for government jobs and equal access to government business contracts. She became a champion of historic preservation and port development, flood control and housing in her New Orleans district.

Mrs. Boggs championed racial justice at a time when doing so invited the resentment if not hostility of most Southern whites. She saw the growing civil rights movement as necessary to the political reform movement of the 1940s and ’50s.

“You couldn’t want to reverse the injustices of the political system and not include the blacks and the poor; it was just obvious,” she said in 1990.

While her husband was in office, she supported civil rights legislation as well as Head Start and antipoverty programs. As the president of two organizations of Congressional wives, she saw to it that each group was racially integrated.

She has been honored by the House with the naming, in 1991, of the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room.  She was 97 when she died.

At the other end of the civil rights spectrum is Harry Byrd, Jr., the long time Senator from Virginia, and not to be confused with Robert Byrd of West Virginia.  When I moved to Virginia in 1965, Byrd was my Senator.  He had just been appointed to replace his father who had died.  The Byrd Machine ruled Virginia Democratic State politics at the time and both Byrds worked hard to maintain segregation in Virginia schools.  The New York Times writes

Even as a middle-aged man, Mr. Byrd was often called “Little Harry” or “Young Harry.” By the 1920s, his father, Harry F. Byrd Sr., had built a formidable Democratic political machine in Virginia that eventually elected him governor and then to the Senate, where he served from 1933 until his resignation in 1965. (Like his son, Harry Sr. was initially appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy, after the resignation of Claude A. Swanson.)

The elder Mr. Byrd was a conservative Democrat who served for 11 years as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He also supported “massive resistance,” the name given to Virginia’s opposition to public school desegregation in the late 1950s. The son, who was serving in the State Senate at the time, helped develop the policy, which included closing some schools for several years rather than integrate them.

Harry F. Byrd  in 1965, when he was appointed to his father’s seat

Harry F. Byrd in 1965, when he was appointed to his father’s seat

Moorestown, N.J. where I was living as a teenager was one of the northern towns that hosted African-American high school seniors so they would have a chance to get diplomas and go to college.  I went to a number of social activities that were hosted for them, but never, much to my regret, got to know any of them well enough to stay in touch.

Although the Byrd machine began coming apart amid the fractured politics of the 1960s, it held together long enough to get Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr., a longtime supporter of the family, to appoint Harry Jr. to his father’s seat in 1965. The following year Mr. Byrd won a special election to complete his father’s term. By 1970, with blacks voting in larger numbers and urban labor unions supporting more liberal candidates, Mr. Byrd faced a potentially challenging Democratic primary in pursuit of his first full term. That March, saying he was unwilling to sign a party oath to support the Democratic nominee in the 1972 presidential election, particularly since the candidate was not yet known, he announced that he would become an independent.

If the decision seemed striking given his family history, it was also prudent. Taking votes from his Democratic and Republican opponents, he won easily that November. Mr. Byrd had dropped his party affiliation but essentially kept his voters, his politics and much of his power.

I don’t think he could have supported either George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey so he made the correct choice.  Byrd, however,  continued to caucus with the Democrats.  There is one more shameful incident I remember.

In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter asked Mr. Byrd to form judicial commissions to name black and female candidates for Virginia’s federal courts. In 1980, after Mr. Byrd’s commissions had named only white men, none of whom were judges, President Carter nominated James E. Sheffield, a black state court judge. Mr. Byrd vowed to fight his Senate confirmation and did so successfully.

I remember Judge Sheffield’s rejection well.  The only reason for his failure to be confirmed was race.

Senator Byrd was a bigot throughout his public life.  He did not run for re-election in 1982 by which time I think he would have lost as new young Democrats were winning office like Charles Robb who became governor in then.  And people like me who were taking over the Virginia Democratic Party.  Byrd’s time was thankfully passing.

He was 98 when he died.

Photographs:  United Press International

Cartoons, Women and Mitt

I’m not sure why any women would vote for Mitt Romney.  His positions are flipping all over the place.  It is not clear he is for equal pay and his position on the right to choose is also changing daily.  Despite the liberal/progressive mocking of  “binders full of women”, I don’t think a lot of women get it.  The bottom line:  if Mitt Romney is elected you can kiss Roe v. Wade good-bye.  Don’t forget that Mitt has said that he believes that life begins a conception.  Will the Republicans in Congress let him support abortion in the cases of rape, incest, and to save the life the women?  I doubt it.  I hope most women continue to get it and that women who are wavering waver back toward President Obama.  I don’t understand it and I’m getting anxious since women are a big key to the election.

So to cheer us up, here is some election humor.

Nick Anderson on the Multiple Mitts.

Nick Anderson's Editorial Cartoons 10/18

Mike Luckovich Binders.

And Matt Wueker

Matt Wuerker

You have to keep laughing.