Charlotte Hays

The White House probably didn’t enjoy Equal Pay Day—the bogus feminist holiday cynically used to rally women voters—half as much as usual this year. Think of Equal Pay Day 2014 as a bad hair day for the phony 77 cents gender wage gap.

An administration official, Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, no less, got caught red-handed peddling the 77 cents wage gap (to portray women as suffering workplace discrimination that can only be alleviated by more government), even though she knew that the figure is simply wrong.

A newspaper story said that the White House was forced to publicly “walk back” the oft-repeated number. Knowing the Obama administration’s vaunted flexibility with numbers, I fully expect the White House to walk it forward again as soon as the coast is clear. Still, Stevenson was called on the phony statistic publicly in a press briefing, and this is progress. The White House could also not have been pleased with liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus’ Thursday column, wherein Marcus said that, in the “unlikely event” that she was elected to Congress, she’d vote for the “Paycheck Fairness Act” but chastised the Democrats for their “revolting equal-pay demagoguery.” Even if Marcus had been in Congress, however, her vote would not have saved the “Paycheck Fairness Act” yesterday, which was voted down in another uncomfortable day for the White House.

Elsewhere in Equal Pay Day news, the White House was asked why in its own shop women are paid only 88 cents on the dollar to what male White House employees make. White House press secretary Jay Carney defensively claimed that the White House is doing better than other employers.

Carney went on to explain that women’s pay is affected by the number of hours worked a week, the types of jobs they seek and several other factors—in short, what the Independent Women’s Forum (my employer) and others have been saying for years.

As Brit Hume of Fox News put it, Carney “actually did a pretty good job of explaining why this whole idea that women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men is snake oil because women make different choices about what kind of jobs they seek. They make different choices in reaction to marriage and child birth.” Next time IWF does a panel on the gender wage gap, I’m inviting Jay Carney to be a panelist…on our side.

White House insider Valerie Jarrett, meanwhile, put in an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" as part of the White House’ Equal Pay Day package. ValJar was there to talk about the president’s new rule, issued on Equal Pay Day, that federal contractors can’t punish employees for sharing their salary information with their colleagues. These new rules are window-dressing—workers already have the right to discuss their salaries under currently law-- but nevertheless ValJar made a bizarre claim: that the new executive orders will prevent law suits. What planet is she on? Planet Cynical. These regulations have the potential to enrich trial lawyers at the expense of business—which is the whole point of the “Paycheck Fairness Act.” These proposals are Hamburger Helper for trial lawyers.

Jarrett and the trial lawyers, who aren’t major Democratic contributors for eleemosynary reasons, know that she was being disingenuous. But she deserves to be quoted. “Employers also should welcome these new tools that they'll have available so they can avoid lawsuits, because they'll have the statistics to be able to correct pay discrepancies before it ever gets to litigation.”

‘With this new transparency,” she continued, “we can have an honest conversation. So many times women have no idea that they're being discriminated against. They have no idea what their counterparts are making.

"They haven't analyzed the statistics to know that women are being paid less than men. And so since we have this wage gap, let's have our conversation and let's figure out how to close it.

Actually, the reason employers don’t know that they are discriminating is that generally they aren’t—or at least, not on the basis of gender. They may be discriminating in favor of ambitious and hardworking employees who want to get ahead and are willing to put in a good day’s work (and more) every day. But this, of course, isn’t discriminating. Paying such employees more makes sense, and, moreover, is just.

Employers aren’t likely to view you as “Male, Age 25” or “Female, Age 47,” but as workers who are individuals and do a job well or don’t do a job well. But if we know what our colleagues make, we’re likely to think not, I must work harder to be as valuable as George over there or Mary, who gets into the office before me and leaves late but, “They are discriminating against me.”

We can’t deny that there may be pockets of gender discrimination—but they are just that: pockets. Such discrimination by gender has been illegal since the Equal Pay Act of 1963. But what these rules do, at least in the small world of federal contracting, is reduce employees to “Male, Age 25” and “Female, 27” without considering what they contribute in the workplace. Indeed, what these regulations are likely to accomplish is a decline in industriousness—once, as Charles Murray has noted, the “defining” American virtue—as willingness to work and talent take a back seat to gender. Workers become cogs rather than people who have a vested interest in doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. These regulations are yet another manifestation of the you-didn’t-build-that mentality, and, as such, constitute a war on the work ethic.

An employer, of course, could reward productive employees, even under these new regulations—but this would bring risk.

The employer might end up paying hefty legal bills to claim that Bill was a hard worker, while plaintiff Joan spent the whole day at the water cooler. Not to cast aspersions on Lily Ledbetter—after whom President Obama’s first “Fair Pay Act” effort was named, and who may for all I know have been Employee of the Year—but legal writer Stuart Taylor reported that Ledbetter was beset by years of poor job evaluations as a Goodyear employee. It is at least worth entertaining the notion that perhaps these evaluations, and not Mrs. Ledbetter’s gender, were the chief reason she was paid less well than her male counterparts.

Because the Ledbetter Act extends the time an employee can sue, all the evidence is likely to be gone by the time the case comes to court.

Nothing stirs up as much bitterness in the workplace as knowing that somebody makes more and being jealous. This would supply endless fodder for lawsuits. But, as long as Ms. Jarrett thinks it’s such a good idea, I am going to look up her salary and see what I am paying her.

Something tells me she is not a victim of discrimination.


Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.