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Jewish World Review March 22, 1999 /5 Nissan 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Return of pay equity?

(JWR) ---- (
THEY DESERVE A CERTAIN ADMIRATION, these tireless liberals do, for their ceaseless struggle to right wrongs --- even when the wrongs are all in their heads.

Take equal pay. According to the AFL-CIO, Sen. Tom Daschle and President Bill Clinton, unequal pay continues to beset American women. Columnist Ellen Goodman argues that while women earned 59 cents on the dollar compared with men in 1969, they now earn 74 cents on the dollar compared with men.

President Clinton cites the same figure and hopes for passage of legislation that would permit the Department of Labor to evaluate jobs and tell employers what to pay each employee.

Echoing a thousand campaigns past, the National Committee on Pay Equity (an arm of the AFL-CIO) has issued a handbook for activists that recommends such ideas as "Hold a BBQ or community cookout with food that is reduced in size to reflect the wage gap" or encourage local restaurants to offer "discounts on selected items to highlight the disparity in pay, such as: a drink special, with $0.74 drinks for women and $1.00 drinks for men."

As usual, the zeal of these would-be reformers is inversely proportional to their accuracy.

Ellen Goodman is quite wrong to imagine that little has changed since 1969.

One thing that has changed is that the national debate now profits from the contributions of non-feminist but scholarly women who know how to evaluate data.

A pair of them, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, and Christine Stolba, a doctoral candidate at Emory University, have published (with the help of the Independent Women's Forum) a new edition of their book "Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America."

As everyday experience suggests, women have made dramatic economic progress in the past 40 years. In nearly every field of endeavor, from advanced degrees to business ownership, women have made great strides. Women comprised only 12 percent of pharmacists in 1970, compared with 44 percent today. They were only 27 percent of public relations specialists, whereas they now dominate the field with 66 percent. There are five times as many female lawyers today as there were 30 years ago and nearly three times as many doctors.

The wage gap, Furchtgott-Roth and Stolba explain, is a crude comparison of the wages of all men compared with the wages of all women. It does not take into account education, training, time on the job, or full or part-time work. In reality, the most important factor in the wage gap between men and women is probably summed up in one word: children. Women with children tend to take more time off from work, accumulate less seniority and accordingly earn less than men. And the more children a woman has, the more her income is likely to suffer. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth finds that among workers ages 27 to 33 who have no children, women's earnings are 98 percent of men's.

The president, the AFL-CIO and other organs of the establishment tend to take it on faith that when men's and women's wages differ, discrimination must be at work. They are familiar with the data showing that mothers earn less than childless women but tend to see this as yet further discrimination. Furchtgott-Roth and Stolba respond with an economist's question: If firms can get away with such discrimination, why do we not see employers taking advantage of this by hiring only mothers and pocketing the profits?

This slim volume deserves an award for maximum number of myths shattered per page. Do women enter the work force because they must or because they choose? The latter, in most cases. Does a glass ceiling keep women from the top echelon of business?

No, it takes decades to rack up the education and work experience necessary to become a top CEO. As women move up the pipeline, they are achieving top spots. Though feminists complain of a "pink ghetto," it is men who hold the vast majority of the least desirable and most dangerous jobs such as pest controller and timber cutter. For every woman who is killed on the job, 13 men die.

The Labor Department should look into this. Comparable death, anyone?


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©1999, Creators Syndicate