Pay Equity Is A Tough Sell

By Ann McFeatters (Opinion)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service


Women! Relax! Former President Jimmy Carter is on your side!

That and 23 cents will get you the same dollar for your work as your male colleagues.

In his never-subtle way, Carter said he is disappointed with what President Obama has done to equalize pay in the work force, where women still lag, earning 77 cents for every dollar men earn, according to the Census Bureau.

Carter noted that women make up 57 percent of university graduates but still get 23 percent less pay than men. And, he said, only 21 of the leaders of the top 500 companies are women, earning 42 percent less pay than the men. Carter said pay inequity is abuse akin to racial discrimination.

Carter’s broadside came after Obama signed a mostly symbolic executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees for telling co-workers how much they’re paid.

Speaking in the White House East Room, filled with cheering women, Obama said, “I don’t know why you (Republicans) would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men, and then deny that that’s not always happening out there.”

Obama likes to note the first bill he signed as president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, extending the time period for employees to file for wages lost as a result of discrimination.

This has all come to the fore because Democrats are eager to get more women to the polls in November to try to hold on to control of the Senate; the House is certain to stay dominated by Republicans. Democrats are focusing on pay equity because Republicans generally oppose any new mandates on employers.

All this attention! And we thought concern about women’s wages and equality in the workforce was as passe as Windows XP.
So let’s consider the arguments. Democrats insist it’s unfair to pay women less. They cite many cases of women training men and getting less pay than their trainees.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would prevent retaliation for sharing paycheck information and would require employers to prove pay disparity is not based on gender.

Republicans say if employers had to pay women as much as men, they would hire fewer women. Some Republicans say that the work men do is more dangerous but don’t want to require employers to do extra work by making salaries of men and women in the same jobs available for comparison.

Republicans don’t even believe Census Bureau figures showing a disparity of 23 cents. They claim women working full time earn 81 cents of every dollar male counterparts do, based on Department of Labor statistics.

The Republican National Committee accuses Democrats of, good grief, playing politics. The RNC said: “The truth is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ is a desperate political ploy. And Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren’t smart enough to know better.”

It will come as no surprise that despite evidence that unfair wages aren’t just a woman’s issue but hold back families and the economy, Senate Republicans promptly filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act to death.

It’s kind of the modern version of “The Pajama Game” in which seven and a half cents more an hour doesn’t seem like a helluva lot, except Congress decrees that it certainly is. It’s kind of Sally Fields as Norma Rae silently holding a union sign except a bunch of congressmen come along, knock her down and rip up her sign.

Women elected Obama in 2008 and re-elected him in 2012, but motivating people to vote in mid-term elections is difficult. In November one-third of Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up for grabs.

In 2010, women voted 49 percent for Republicans and 48 percent for Democrats. It’s easy to see why Democrats are desperate.
But even with Carter’s passion and Obama’s executive orders, there seems to be no groundswell of support for pay equity, or the election of more Democrats, on the horizon.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.

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