Something caught my attention this week and it deserved a note. It was Equal Pay Day. In case you missed it this year was full of spectacular political drama. Democrats tried to drum up some justified outrage over an important cause, and Republicans tried desperately not to look like enormous asses on the issue and failed miserably. But we’ve been there, we’ve seen that bit before. The evilness of the Republican Party is more than this blog can handle without a lot of foaming at the mouth and enough *headdesk* for a bloody concussion. However, if all you want is to make points at the expense of Republicans then congratulations, Equal Pay Day has been a tremendous success, but all the moral outraging at this issue is not enough.
Let’s start with the moral outrage. Who are we mad at? I mean specifically. The rhetoric does little more than pit men against women. Which not only isn’t true, but it’s poor politics. I know I’m not discriminating against women. The worst you could say about me is that I’m passively tolerating a patriarchal hierarchy that is refusing to deal with institutional barriers to parity. Mostly because my time and energy are spent in other places, and secondly because I have no idea how to fix the problem. Neither does anyone else.
The number that is trotted out at these things is 77. That’s 77 cents that a woman makes for every dollar of male income. It’s a good number. It’s even an accurate number as far as such things go. But that number lacks context. If you add up every dollar that every woman in the country makes and compare it to every dollar a man makes it’s true, 77c. And so every woman goes around demanding “equal pay for equal work”. It’s a good number and a great slogan. There’s even a bill in congress that Republicans are obstructing called “The Equal Pay Act”. Here’s the problem, generally speaking, women aren’t doing equal work as men. Women loose a tremendous amount of time from their careers to their families. If you account for that time, experience, education, and other factors, the pay disparity virtually disappears. Let’s say a woman loses 5 years of work to raise a family. She’s going to permanently loose 5 years of prime economic activity. That economic loss isn’t just issue for women, that’s an issue for everyone. It’ll have a huge long term financial impact for her and her family and by extension, the rest of the economy. The second thing that happens is they loose 5 years of experience. Finally, the loss of economic productivity and experience is directly harmful to the economy, and by the economy I mean me personally. Now it’s not that women’s aligned groups aren’t talking about this, but when they do, they do a terrible job at making a case for economic advantage. They almost always put it in terms of how outraged everyone should be. And people should be outraged; it’s just idiotic politics.