Michael Barone
An economist serving on a second-term president's Council of Economic Advisers might expect to weigh in on fundamental issues, restructuring the tax system or making entitlement programs sustainable over the long term. Barack Obama once talked of addressing such issues, and Republican leaders such as House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp are doing so.

But that's not what University of Michigan economist and CEA member Betsey Stevenson finds herself doing. Instead, she is defending the use of misleading statistics in support of legislation addressing a minor problem.

The legislation is Obama's latest pay equity measure, which failed to pass in the Senate last week. The misleading statistic is 77 cents, cited repeatedly by Obama as the amount women earn for every dollar earned by men.

When challenged on this by MSNBC's Irin Cannon, Stevenson admitted that the 77 cents figure is misleading. "If I said that 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke," she admitted.

"There are a lot of things that go into that 77 cents figure," she went on. "There are a lot of things that contribute, and no one's trying to say that it's all about discrimination, but I don't think there's a better figure."

Of course some people are trying to say that "it's all about discrimination"--starting with Stevenson's boss, President Obama, and including the political ad-makers preparing to cut 30-second spots accusing Republicans of a "war on women."

So Stevenson is fibbing about that. And when she says, "there are a lot of things that contribute" to male-female earnings disparities, she is indicating that she understands the weakness of using the 77 cents number.

This isn't controversial stuff. As my American Enterprise Institute colleague Christina Hoff Sommers writes in the Daily Beast, the 77 cents "does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week."

Those factors are acknowledged in a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report cited by AEI scholars Mark Perry and Andrew Biggs in the Wall Street Journal. It shows that (a) men tend to work longer hours than women, (b) men tend to take riskier jobs with premium pay and (c) female college graduates tend to specialize in lower-paid fields than male college graduates.

As a result, the BLS concludes, women who worked 40-hour weeks earned 88 percent of what similar men did. Single women who never married earned 96 percent of men's earnings.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM