F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
January 16, 2000
Comparable Worth of Apples, Oranges

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Equal pay for unequal work -- that's what "comparable worth" is really about!

In a recent issue of Labor Watch, published by the Capital Research Center, Diana Furchgott-Roth of the American Enterprise Institute warns that comparable worth legislation would empower government officials to "set 'wage guidelines' for male- and female-dominated jobs. These criteria," she asserts, "tend to favor traditionally female occupations over male ones, and education-based and white-collar jobs over manual, blue-collar work." Furchgott-Roth emphasizes that the criteria generally exclude experience and risk, "two factors which increase men's average wages relative to those of women."

Furchgott-Roth debunks the AFL-CIO claim that women in the workforce make only 74 cents for every dollar made by men. "The 74-cent figure is derived by comparing the average median wage of all full-time working men and women," she explains. "These estimates fail to consider key factors in determining wages, including education, age, [total hours worked], experience, and, perhaps most important, consecutive years in the workforce."

According to Furchgott-Roth, equally-qualified women are paid "about the same" as their male counterparts. "Tenure and experience are two of the most important factors in explaining the wage gap" that does exist, she contends, noting that "women on average spend a far higher percentage of their working years out of the workforce than men."

Furchgott-Roth emphasizes that "many college-educated women still choose to major in specialties which pay less, and women without a college degree are at a disadvantage in the blue-collar labor force. Women get more degrees in public administration and communications and fewer degrees in math and engineering," she explains. "Men on average are physically stronger than women, so men without a college education are able to take jobs in industries such as construction, mining, oil drilling, and logging, jobs which many women find undesirable or for which they are physically unsuited."

Furchgott-Roth also points out that "many women choose jobs that enable them to better combine work and family, and these pay less than those with rigid or extensive hours."

In the same issue of Labor Watch, Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity reports that "there is no evidence that the laws against sex discrimination are being ignored, and plenty of evidence that they are being followed." He attributes "any remaining disparities between what men earn and what women earn" not to discrimination, but to "different choices made by men and women about the jobs and hours they want." Clegg argues that the concept of comparable worth is "flatly inconsistent" with our century's most important economic lesson: "that the free market is infinitely better at setting prices and allocating resources than is a centralized bureaucracy."

Though flying in the face of economic reality, comparable worth legislation is under consideration in Congress and in numerous states. "The principal comparable worth bill pending in Congress, S.74, contains more than just socialist economics," Clegg warns. "It would also do the bidding of trial lawyers by creating a whole new area for class action lawsuits."

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