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Is equal pay war worth fighting?

DALLAS (BP)–This election cycle there have been twists, turns, and, seemingly, some switching of sides in the gender wars. But one 60s feminist agenda item that should have gone away by now hasn’t. The demand for enforced pay equity for women has become the subject of recent political ads, and a September congressional hearing, in other words: A campaign issue.

The tired statistic that says “a woman on average makes 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man” is still fodder for the gender grievance-mongers. They want more government oversight to make sure companies pay women and men the same.

Pay discrimination against women has been illegal for more than 40 years based upon two pieces of legislation: The 1963 Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. When women seek legal remedies, they get them.

And, yes, there is a wage gap. The wage gap statistic comes from the Department of Labor’s comparison of the median income of a woman working full time with that of a man working full time. The figure normally shows women make about 80 percent of what men make. But there is nothing within this figure to account for women’s preferences, for the choices women make regarding their professional lives. These choices are often very different from those made by men. Gender micromanagers ignore the happy reality in the lives of millions of women: They have children.

A recent study by the Pew Research center shows that sixty percent of employed mothers find part-time work most appealing. (For various reasons, only 24 percent of them actually have part-time hours.) This study is consistent with other research which clearly demonstrates women’s career decisions involve the need to consider how their children will be cared for.

Some women work full-time plus, and their husbands have a flexible schedule to accommodate the family’s day-to-day child-rearing needs. But overall, women take more chunks of time off from work to accommodate the birth and raising of children — overwhelmingly more than men do. The term for this is “off ramping.” It cuts into women’s seniority. Also, on average, women work fewer hours per week, spending .7 hours less in the office per day than men.

There’s another component to the wage gap: Women tend to choose specialties that pay less. Females receive the majority of degrees in communications. More women are teachers. More men work in areas that require engineering degrees. Forcing equal pay among these fields is like attempting to make apples oranges.

It’s true that the pay gap between men and women does not completely disappear when hours, occupation, and time in the workforce are considered. Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum, says discrimination still accounts for about 5 percent of the wage gap. But there are other factors. She points to research showing that women are less likely to negotiate a starting salary and to ask for raises.

Better negotiating skills would have helped Lilly Ledbetter after whom a piece of pay equity legislation, to be introduced in the next Congress, is named. In 1979, Ms. Ledbetter went to work for Goodyear Tire Company. After 19 years she retired. She almost immediately filed charges citing pay discrimination. She said the fact that she was paid less than her fellow male supervisors affects her retirement, making her a “second class citizen” for the rest of her life. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled, last May, that to be awarded damages Ledbetter needed to have filed … well … just a little earlier. The statute of limitations is 180 days from the so-called “discriminatory pay decision.” That would have been when she was first hired or, perhaps at the time of one of her promotions or raises.

Lilly Ledbetter’s case has become a media cause célèbre, and some politicians are seeking to woo voters based on the pay equity issue. They might persuade a few, but the Independent Women’s Forum’s Carrie Lukas is skeptical because “most women today don’t think in terms of gender solidarity.” Most women are too busy juggling their many responsibilities to focus on whether they might be victims of discrimination. Very few are interested in fighting the gender wars of the past. In a struggling economy, the mindset that seeks to cram false pay equity down the throats of private businesses often ends up backfiring when it comes to their decisions to hire a woman in the first place.

By the way, the latest report of the secretary of the Senate details what each U.S. senator pays staff members and you might be surprised who underpays women staffers and who pays them equitably with men.

Most women wouldn’t mind making more money. But, for some, time with family, including child-rearing responsibilities, or freedom to pursue other interests is worth more that a bigger paycheck. Women don’t want or need a NOW-style pay equity regime. For us and for our economy, the price is too high.
Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and an announcer on the syndicated pro-life radio program “Life on the Line” (information available at www.lifeontheline.com). She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas. She formerly was a co-host of Marlin Maddoux’s “Point of View” syndicated radio program.

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  • Penna Dexter