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Equal Pay For Equal Work — Really?

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) speaks at a press conference to address the equal pay act June 12, 2001 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The AFL-CIO”s Working Women Working Together hosted the news conference to introduce a campaign for legislation to step up enforcement of the 1963 Equal Pay Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Equal pay for equal work.  You can’t pick up a paper or turn on a TV without hearing something about this “feel good” topic. Even the White House female staff seems to be unequally compensated for their efforts. Who could possibly be against equal pay for equal work for women? What cold-hearted, misogynistic, misguided, male chauvinist pig could ever give a “thumbs up” to women making less than men? I guess that would be me.

77¢ or .05¢ Per Hour

The president claims that women, on average, earn .77¢ less per hour than their male counterparts for doing the same job. Other studies show that when comparing apples with apples the difference is closer to $.05 per hour. So who’s right?

I believe it was Andrew Lang who once said, “Statistics are like a lamppost to a drunk. More for stability than illumination.” To answer that question I would refer to this quote, “An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem.” — John Tukey

What We Are Talking About Is An Approximate Problem

I go to work for an agreed upon compensation. The person working next to me doing exactly the same job has been there four years. Should we be paid the same? Why not — aren’t we doing the exact same work?

There are too many variables in experience, work duties and responsibilities to reduce compensation to one common denominator — a wage. Should Sue Bird of the Women’s National Basketball Association Seattle Storm, a three time Olympic Gold Mentalist, a four time All-Star make the same salary as LeBron James of the NBA Miami Heat? Both are playing exactly the same game with exactly the same rules.

The Fair Labor Standards Act Allows Unequal Pay

The following is from the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Subminimum Wage Provisions

“The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) provides for the employment of certain individuals at wage rates below the statutory minimum. Such individuals include student-learners (vocational education students), as well as full-time students in retail or service establishments, agriculture, or institutions of higher education.

Also included are individuals whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those related to age or injury, for the work to be performed. Employment at less than the minimum wage is authorized to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment. Such employment is permitted only under certificates issued by WHD.”

So a handicapped person can work side by side with an able bodied person, make less per hour, and the Federal government gives that practice their blessing. How exactly is that fair?

Opportunities for Employment

Did you read the telltale sentence in the Fair Labor Standards Act above? I’ll repeat it here, Employment at less than the minimum wage is authorized to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment.” Even the Federal Government knows that pay is just another form of discrimination. That some people should not only be allowed to work for lower pay, they are happy to work for lower pay. Should a woman be penalized because she is willing to trade less pay for more flexible work hours so she can welcome her kids home from school?

Jobs American’s Just Won’t Do

What jobs do men do that women won’t? None that I know of yet women seem to gravitate toward fulfilling type jobs like nursing, teaching, and public service, etc. Where men are more money driven to higher paying unfulfilling jobs that are not pleasant to do. Tarring a roof in 90-degree heat, working at the bottom of a coal mine, fixing power lines in sub zero weather. Those jobs naturally pay more or it would be impossible to find anyone to do them. And yes, men are teachers, nurses and work in the public service sector too.

Some Final Thoughts

Having been a personnel manager in my former life I do know that it is illegal to pay anyone less because of his or her sex under the 1963 Equal Pay Act. Anyone doing so would be breaking the law. However it is perfectly legal to pay employees based on performance and ability. The better you are at your job; the more compensation you should expect.

One of my main jobs as a personnel manager was to reduce employee turnover. So there were always compromises to keep good employees. Those compromises had everything to do with circumstances and nothing to do with the sex of the particular worker.

If this law is being broken to the extent the president claims then I guess we can look for a boatload of male employees across the nation to receive a .77¢ per hour reduction in their paychecks in order to make things equal. The White House would be a good test case to see how this might work. I will watch with great interest for that to happen.

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