Prosecute the torture.

August 24, 2014

Yea, This Is Disappointing

Usually, I love watching John Oliver on HBO.  Usually, he's funny, moving, and completely right.

Last week, however, I watched as he got caught up in the Gender Gap story.

And, he got the story wrong.

We've written about this before but I guess it might be a good idea to revisit the issue, if only to point out Oliver's mistakes.  The biggest mistake happens whenever Oliver uses the phrase "for equal work" except when he says this about 5 minutes in:
Paying people less for the same work is clearly wrong.
I could not agree more.  The problem Oliver has is where and what to other sentences he pastes the "for the same work" phrase.

Let's take a look at his numbers.  His piece gives a number of different pay gaps  Along with the by now well known $.77 he gives us talking points saying the gap is:
  • $.81
  • $.88
  • $.91
  • $.95 to $.93
They're obviously different, but are they conflicting?  Throughout the piece Oliver mocks the presence  of different numbers as evidence that...there's something wrong with all those numbers.  Implicit in the mockery is the "fact" that the reality is "$.77 on the dollar for the same work" and so all the other numbers must be so much dishonest number fudgery.

But that's just simply not true.  You have to look at what the numbers represent to see that each tells a slightly different story.  Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post explained this a little more than 2 years ago:
We were struck by the disparities in the data when we noticed that a news release by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) trumpeted the 77 cent figure, but it included a link to a state-by-state breakdown that gave a different overall figure: 81 cents.

What’s the difference? The 77 cent figure comes from a Census Bureau report, which is based on annual wages. The BLS numbers draw on data that are based on weekly wages. Annual wages is a broader measure — it can include bonuses, retirement pensions, investment income and the like — but it also means that school teachers, who may not work over the summer, would end up with a lower annual wage.

In other words, since women in general work fewer hours than men in a year, the statistics may be less reliable for examining the key focus of the legislation — wage discrimination. Weekly wages is more of an apples-to-apples comparison, but as mentioned, it does not include as many income categories, The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages — it is 86 cents vs. 100 (see Table 9) — but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers. But, under this metric for people with a college degree, there is virtually no pay gap at all. [Emphases added.]
So what did Oliver's numbers represent?  Let's look one at a time:
  • $.81 - This is a BLS survey released in 2012 that compares weekly earnings.
  • $.88 - quotes BLS to say that, if I am reading it correctly, Since men tend to work more overtime their weekly earnings edge higher and that when comparing male and female workers who each work only 40 hours, the gap is closer to $.88.  
  • $.91 - Hanna Rosin over at cites this paper to say that "The big differences are in occupation and industry. Women congregate in different professions than men do, and the largely male professions tend to be higher-paying. If you account for those differences, and then compare a woman and a man doing the same job, the pay gap narrows to 91 percent."
This is where we clash with Oliver's other bit of mockery: that if the gap exists, it's actually women's fault. [OMG, how can anyone in their right mind believe that?]

But as we've seen, the Stanford paper says that women do congregate in lower paying jobs and no less than the Association of American University Women says that the different choices that men and women make in college and in the job market are in fact a part of the gap.  From page 8 of the AAUW report, The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap:
In part, these pay gaps do reflect men’s and women’s choices, especially the choice of college major and the type of job pursued after graduation. For example, women are more likely than men to go into teaching, and this contributes to the pay gap because teachers tend to be paid less than other college graduates. This portion of the pay gap is considered to be explained, regardless of whether teachers’ wages are considered fair.
It's not the entire explanation for the gap, of course, but it's not non-existent either.

So a large part of the gap is based on the the difference between the choices men and women make in choosing an education and the details of the career that follows.

Once we accept that premise, how can we be possibly be talking about "equal pay for the same job"?  We simply aren't.  Saying that $.77 on the dollar is evidence for unequal pay for the same job was simply incorrect 3 years ago and it was simply incorrect last Sunday.  And yet that's exactly what John Oliver was doing to BS the facts.

When all of the other factors (yearly vs weekly vs hourly wages, educational and career choices and so on) are taken into account, the gap is in the still unacceptable single digit range.  Too large, obviously, but still much smaller than the currently accepted rate of "77 cents on the dollar."

And whatever the gap is (even if it's "only" 5%), it's something, according to The Equal Pay Act of 1963, that's still illegal.


Heir to the Throne said...

The problem is income inequality.
A Domestic Worker should be paid the same amount as a Miner, Lumberjack, Police Officer or CEO.

Dayvoe said...

Yea...another non sequitur.