Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2000 / 6 Elul, 5760
But apparently even Al Gore realizes that a kiss is just a kiss, so leaving nothing to chance he's now going after women with another ploy - a promise of "equal pay for equal work." After all, who could be against such a thing? This call to arms is regularly in the vice president's speeches and, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported just in time for Labor Day, it's quickly becoming a mainstay of the Gore campaign. The slogan, which has actually been around almost as long as I have, is based on the premise that women make significantly less than men for doing the very same work, and that a federally managed legislative remedy (read: payday for lawyers) is needed to fix the disparity.
But this is a game of "hide the peanut," Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told me. Pay discrimination has been blatantly illegal since 1963, and is even punishable by punitive damages. He explained that Al Gore wants to win women's votes by creating the false impression that women are being paid significantly less than men for doing the exact same jobs. Then, under current plans to address the issue, Washington would become a key player in setting pay scales for entirely different job categories in order to eliminate "unfair pay disparities" - just one provision of a Senate bill President Clinton and Vice President Gore back. (It's worth noting that Democrats lost their political nerve and didn't pass "comparable worth" measures when they controlled both the White House and Congress.)
What the Gore team doesn't admit is that we've come a long way, baby. Al Gore and the prevailing woman-as-victim ethos claim that women earn about "75 cents on the dollar" for what men make. But that crude and largely meaningless (though rising) figure simply compares all full-time men and women wage earners regardless of differences in the number of hours worked, experience, education, occupation and so on. When these things are taken into account, the gap closes. So, for instance, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that women aged 27-33 who don't have children earn 98 percent of men's pay. The Employment Policy Foundation recently reported that for full-time workers age 21-35 who are married but do not have children, women make 97 percent of what men do, and that "there is no pay gap at all among full-time workers age 21-35 who live alone."
(And anyway, if women really were being paid less to do the very same work as men, wouldn't we see employers regularly saving money by hiring only women?) Further, as Christine Stolba of the Independent Women's Forum in Washington, D.C. points out, "Today women are earning more than half of all college degrees and nearly half of all graduate degrees. Many of these women will earn higher salaries than their mothers, if they choose to pursue higher-paying fields."
And "choose" is really the operative word. The Sisterhood doesn't like to admit it, but most women at some point freely and happily choose to cut back on their work when they can, or even to leave it altogether or for a time, to care for children. More than men, women will rearrange their work lives or pursue different careers at the outset, i.e., pediatrics instead of neurosurgery, to make an accommodation for family, and such choices will have an impact on their lifetime earnings. (Though individual women who don't make such choices can expect to do just as well as their male counterparts.) Yes, millions of women freely choosing to limit their work life in some way will affect the aggregate earnings picture for women as related to men. But as long as women are creating that picture for themselves, it's one that no federal government mandate or presidential candidate can or should try to redraw.
So far Al Gore has used romance and fear to manipulate women's support. Before waiting to see what comes next, thinking women should tell Al Gore to kiss their votes
08/30/00: Helping out at school is more than an obligation