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Zinan/My Turn: Beyond the pay gap headline

karikatur für tribüne-gleichberechtigung

karikatur für tribüne-gleichberechtigung

Every year during the fall season, the most misleading, emotion-packed headline in the U.S.A. reappears just like the 40 Atlantic salmon that return annually to the Connecticut River.

“Women are paid 77 percent of what men make,” the headline reads, sub context — pay discrimination reigns throughout the work force. We must pass the Equal Pay Act.

Now this belief that women are paid less for equal work is one of the Ten Commandments of the progressive world. You cannot be a progressive if you do not believe in this mantra. But is this mantra true?

The source of this annual headline is the Pay Gap report prepared by the Association of American University Women (AAUW). Now I won’t get into that perhaps the AAUW might be a wee bit biased in its conclusions.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the report, shall we. What exactly is being compared? Per the AAUW report: “After accounting for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status, Pay Gap found that a 7 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained.”

In other words, the vast majority of the “pay gap” is caused by personal choice. Women choose to go into professions such as teaching, nursing, librarian and social work. These professions simply pay less than the more male-dominated professions: engineering, financial manager, accountant or computer programmer. Are we surprised that engineers or software developers are paid more than nurses? (Please, I mean no offense to nurses. My wife is a nursing professor and former nurse. She works a lot harder than me.)

Funny, the headlines never scream out, “Men make 7 percent more than women” or “Women earn 93 percent of equal work.” The AAUW explicitly states that this unexplained 7 percent difference is caused by discrimination, plain and simple. I believe many factors could go into that 7 percent difference including, but not solely, discrimination.

The AAUW also states the following: “Becoming a parent is an example of a choice that often has different outcomes for men and women. Behind the Pay Gap found that 10 years after graduation, 23 percent of mothers in our sample were out of the workforce and 17 percent worked part time. Among fathers, only 1 percent were out of the workforce, and only 2 percent worked part time.”

Clearly, leaving the workforce means losing seniority, benefits, higher pay and obviously part-time means less pay.

The next important topic but only briefly discussed in the Pay Gap report is too controversial or complicated to resolve now. It is the most fascinating and I believe the true heart of the matter.

Is social work or nursing as complex and do these professions require the same depth of knowledge as an engineer or computer programmer? Should a janitor be paid more like a surgeon? If most job professions are basically equal, why are the male-dominated professions paid more than the female-dominated ones?

In conclusion, the immediate end goal of the AAUW is the passage of the “Equal Pay Act.”

There are already numerous Equal Pay laws and Equal Pay Presidential Orders in existence and enforced by the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, and the Equal Opportunity Economic Commission. Another law will create the familiar scenario of more: Federal reporting requirements, layers of federal bureaucrats to collect and review the reports, class action lawsuits and out-of-court settlements, lawyers and in the end a government that won’t stop eating and growing.

The AAUW Pay Gap report readily stirs our emotional being and rally-to-the-flag attitude. Perceived discrimination is a huge lightning rod. It can be very difficult to accept that a combination of our capitalist economy and biological instinct is what really determines today’s job professions and salary levels.

Mark Zinan lives in Sunderland.

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