“So today,” President Obama said on July 20th, “I thank the House for its work on this issue and encourage the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a common-sense bill that will help ensure that men and women who do equal work receive the equal pay that they and their families deserve. Passing this bill is one of the [Middle Class] Task Force’s key recommendations, and I hope Congress will act swiftly so that I can sign it into law.”
The National Organization for Women (NOW) points to the country’s wage gap as an obvious reason this legislation is needed.
In a letter the group sent to senators in September, NOW urged lawmakers to support the bill. “On average, the pay gap costs women about $11,000 each year in lower income, more than $400,000 over a lifetime. Every month women lose nearly a full week’s pay due to sex-based wage discrimination. Loss of that income may mean the difference between paying the mortgage or losing the family home,” the letter read.
Some, however, have taken issue with the premise that the wage gap is even a product of discrimination. In a New York Times op-ed, Christina Hoff Sommers explained that the gender wage discrepancy is largely a function of individual choice.
“[A] 2009 analysis of wage-gap studies commissioned by the Labor Department evaluated more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and concluded that the aggregate wage gap ‘may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers,’” she highlighted.
Sommers went on to detail the disparity in professional values that also account for pay differences, such as the propensity for women to leave the workplace to care for children and the fact that women tend to gravitate toward job benefits over a higher salary. “In fact,” Sommers writes, “there were so many differences in pay-related choices that the researchers were unable to specify a residual effect due to discrimination.”
Whether the wage gap is a function of discrimination or personal choices, in the long run, legislation such as this will be harmful to women, says the former chair of the National Small Business Association, Keith Ashmus, a partner at the law firm Frantz Ward in Cleveland.
“It will discourage businesses to hire, especially women, because of the dangers that are associated with this Act. I think the increased litigation will scare small businesses, and other businesses…will spend all their time looking at how not to get sued instead of how to make money and hire more people,” he said.
When the lame duck Congress convenes next week, the Paycheck Fairness Act will be on the Senate’s agenda.