The Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 – What it Says, What it Implies and Why We Should Encourage Our Congressmen and Women to Consider Passing It

I was recently invited by a friend to watch a YouTube video, which is embedded in my previous post. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was addressing the Senate floor on The Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 and urging her peers to vote for this bill. The facts surrounding whether women are underpaid for the same work are difficult to address, because the range by which this gap differs is not fixed across industries or socioeconomic lines. Some simple comparisons that have been thrown around garner a large amount of derision on social media and news outlet sites. I commented on the video because of one of these particularly insulting remarks, and received a response in which seemingly irrelevant data to the point I had made was given in defense of not passing the act. He asked me if I even know what the bill proposes.

Why, yes sir, I do. In addition, I know a bunch of fun facts which I am happy to share. Let’s start with some mathematical data.

Using 2012 Census data, the female population in my home state of Maryland was estimated at 51.6% of the total population. Since my critic cited data on the salary information for women without children, let’s take a look at that number too. This is not directly cited, but we can extrapolate it.

The number of persons per household was 2.64. Not all of the “extra” people were necessarily spouses or children, but some comfortable fraction of these would be. Let’s argue for a 30/70 split between the number of persons above one within a single household to be either spouse and some variation of “children.” Let’s define “children” to include any family member of age similar to one’s children, for whom one would arguably carry the cost of their living expenses, stepchildren, etc, versus some other person such as an aging parent or roommate with shared expenses or a live-in significant other. Even this is generous (for example, a woman in her 50’s who is disabled, because of her social security disability benefit being too low to cover even a single room apartment in some locales, often will be required to live with family and her meager $600 a month income barely covers “rent” in the form of half of the utilities and food).

In this society, we have statistics on the number of these which indicate the percentage of marriage-like living situations is higher than traditionally cited through census data. So approximately 36% of the total population could be argued to be females directly responsible for the household finances. With me so far?

Let’s look at income data, starting with the US as a whole and then focusing specifically on Maryland. We will make some assumptions. First, we will assume that some percentage of the population is unable to work full time for some reason related to health or being directly responsible for the care of children. This data is not always captured via unemployment data, so we will also look at data which indicates other means of support, such as social security, WIC, and “welfare.” We will exclude Veterans Administration data for the moment, which should make people who think women didn’t “really” serve pretty ecstatic. I happen to disagree.

Unemployment data discounts individuals who have been out of work for longer than several months, and a significant portion of people in this category would not be captured with official unemployment data for other reasons, such as recently becoming a legal adult, with no work history and needing a job but being unable to obtain one; recently graduating from college; recently entering the workforce from another country and losing one’s job while still legally remaining in the US; and other categories not captured here. Presumably, the critic is one of those who wishes to consider any illegal immigrants working to “not count,” so we will respect this definition even though my personal politics do not condemn those individuals.

Second assumption is that the percentage of individuals working is broken out into some income distribution that is represented commensurately with the entire population income distribution (arguably, the ideal case if the world was already fair and women were paid equally). We will later show this is inconsistent with the data, but it illustrates the point of the Paycheck Fairness Legislation quite beautifully.

Maryland-Pay-Gap-2013

(please click the link)

Another interesting point is captured below.

“Part of the reason for the superior gains of married adults is compositional in nature. Marriage rates have declined for all adults since 1970 and gone down most sharply for the least educated men and women. As a result, those with more education are far more likely than those with less education to be married, a gap that has widened since 1970. Because higher education tends to lead to higher earnings, these compositional changes have bolstered the economic gains from being married for both men and women.

There also is an important gender component of these trends. Forty years ago, the typical man did not gain another breadwinner in his household when he married. Today, he does — giving his household increased earning power that most unmarried men do not enjoy. The superior gains of married men have enabled them to overtake and surpass unmarried men in their median household income.

Overall, married adults have made greater economic gains over the past four decades than unmarried adults. From 1970 to 2007, their median adjusted household incomes, the sum of financial contributions of all members of the household, rose more than those of the unmarried”

(Cited from this report: new-economics-of-marriage)

My YouTube critic contends that women without children are paid more than men without children, so the contention that women have a pay gap is false. I found data to support his claim, which he did not of course provide (critics never do!).

“Unmarried women in 2007 had higher household incomes than their 1970 counterparts at each level of
education. But unmarried men without any post-secondary education lost ground because their real earnings decreased and they did not have a wife’s wages to buffer that decline. Unmarried men who did not complete high
school or who had only a high school diploma had lower household incomes in 2007 than their 1970
counterparts did. Unmarried men with some college education had stagnant household incomes.”

While this does not exactly quantify the number of married men not working, I bring it up because another component of the YouTube critic was that it matters whether a woman’s spouse works as to whether she cares about an income gap, and also indicated that if I am paid fairly as a woman, I should not take up this cause for others. At least in my case, this is not true.

So, perhaps we can all at least agree that men in these times stand to gain a tremendous advantage by being married, which is confirmed by that statement from the report above. Women don’t arguably NEED to get married to have children (gasp!), so that is an ancillary fact for the economic benefit of marriage in terms of having children. Women who wish to have children have several options and these are exercised with sufficient regularity to support this claim. But there is often a benefit to working women as well. It just depends on whether their spouse is working and whether they are making ends meet. Further,

Among U.S.-born adults ages 30-44, most married men did not have a working spouse in 1970; now, most do. Married women, on the other hand, are somewhat less likely than their 1970 counterparts to have a husband who works.

Even if there is a live-in working partner for unmarried couples, the data will show these to be single household earners at tax time and census collection. This excludes data on married lesbian women, which traditionally were not considered an acceptable category of married persons (and still is not in many states) for census collection purposes. We will have to figure for this as well.  One beautiful thing about data is that it directly quantifies my point, even when the categories of people are not “accurately” captured. 

 A Facebook friend criticized the need for a new law on the grounds that women who have been unfairly discriminated against can now sue their former or current employers if such discrimination can be proven in court. I challenge this person to find any women in a position that is comfortably within some margin above the poverty line who has the means to sue a former employer in court. Tort law might be the answer for people with exposable income, but most working women who are not single are doing so because they need that income for survival. And those who are single are clearly in worse shape. When you find a portion of the population, male or female, who agrees to fork over the typical costs for such a legal action, please let me know. In the meantime, Congress has to note the difficulty this presents for the majority of their constituents. There are gaps in the current laws which allow employers to continue such discrimination “legally.” We need to fix those gaps.

While I don’t necessarily think this is the best resource, my generation usually appreciates the summary capabilities of Wikipedia, so I will provide this as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paycheck_Fairness_Act

 The succinctly stated point below summarizes my view as to why we need to consider urging our Congressperson to pass this next time it arises for discussion and a vote.

 The following study finding highlights potential reasons why men are so indignant about this potentially being passed which are purely psychological in nature:

A Pew Research Center survey in 2008 found that wives who earn more than their husbands are more
likely to have decision-making power, especially over major purchases and household finances.
According to the survey, in couples where the husband makes more money, spouses are about
equally likely to say that husbands (35%) and wives (36%) make most decisions regarding household finances. However, in couples where the wife makes more, spouses say that only 21% of husbands make most decisions
on household finances, compared with 46% of wives.

This does not imply all men who are enjoying less power feel emasculated enough to not want to allow women to earn more, thus potentially increasing their decision-making power and therefore overall control. But I think it is implied that this might explain some individual thoughts on the matter. My question is this: Is women having more power sufficient justification for not doing something? What if the population were something other than female? I hear a lot of reasoning on why things should not be done on the basis of “if it were white men asking for this, it would never happen.” This is wrong on so many levels. If all of us are to support the notion of everyone being created equal, or everyone being deserving of respect, or any of the values we supposedly embody in the USA traditionally, which are indirectly associated with prosperity and stability, then we must stand up for those who are not receiving this fairness. The willingness to advocate for others who are NOT like you is the mark of integrity that we as a nation have historically appreciated in our finest leaders. If we as individuals turn our back on these injustices, we are not realistically able to then criticize our elected leaders on the same basis. Yet we do it all the time. 

I hear from time to time discussion about this nation not being worth it anymore. I always challenge this notion, though it gets me in trouble. But when really facing facts about what we as individuals want, we cannot argue with the logic and facts presented in Barbara Mikulski’s speech:

“There are fathers out there working in jobs they hate so that their daughters can work in the careers that they love.” 

Truer words were never spoken – I am willing to bet if you are not one of these fathers, you know one. Consider this bill for those individuals, if not for yourself or your own children. 

 

 

 

 

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