Fox News dismissed the fact that women are paid less than men as "not a national problem." In fact, studies consistently show that an earnings discrepancy between men and women persists, even when accounting for a variety of factors.
Fox chief national correspondent Jim Angle claimed on the September 26 edition of Happening Now that U.S. Census data cited in a campaign ad for President Obama do not show that women receive unequal pay for equal work.
Angle's assertion rested on a statement from U.S. Census Bureau spokesman David Johnson who recently stated: "We don't have a way of measuring equal pay for equal work. We try to compare the earnings of full time, year-round work between men and women."
Angle trumpeted the statement to mean that it's "not true" the assertion that women earn on average 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Angle also explained away the discrepancy by saying women often work less hours than men and that it's "the result of personal choices."
He added: "Now there may be some discrimination somewhere but it is not the national problem President Obama says he's fixing. In fact, analysts say young female college graduates now often make more than men."
In a September 2011 study, the Census Bureau found that in 2010, "the female to-male earnings ratio was 0.77, not statistically different from the 2009 ratio," and added:
In 2010, the median earnings for men was $47,715 and for women $36,931. In 2010, the female-to-male earnings ratio of full-time, year-round workers was 0.77, not statistically different from the 2009 ratio.
This finding is highlighted in an Obama campaign ad that Angle held up as an example of an ad that Obama would agree is "a little over the top."
But while the Census' conclusion was based on a comparison of all fully employed men's and women's salaries, the findings certainly don't negate the fact that wage equality is a significant national problem.
Indeed, an April 2011 report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research offers this devastating fact: No matter how many different ways the researchers mapped the data, including by looking specifically at men and women's salaries within the same occupation, women earned less than men almost all of the time.
Of the 111 occupations the institute surveyed, it found that "there are only four in which women's weekly median earnings are higher than men's" -- all were food preparation-related and low-wage service jobs:
The occupation where women's earnings are higher than men's by the largest margin is 'combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food', with median earnings for full-time work of only $369 (data not shown in Tables), barely enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty threshold.
An analysis by Bloomberg of men and women's wages as mapped by Census data proved so sobering that the reporter who summarized the findings offered this quip for "[w]omen who want to earn more on Wall Street than their male colleagues": "They can set up a shoe-shine stand in Lower Manhattan." Jokes aside, this is what Bloomberg found:
Female personal care and service workers, which include butlers, valets, house sitters and shoe shiners, earned $1.02 for every $1 their male counterparts made in 2010, according to census data compiled by Bloomberg. That job category, which covers 38,210 full-time workers in the U.S., was the only one of 265 major occupations where the median female salary exceeded the amount paid to men.
The six jobs with the largest gender gap in pay and at least 10,000 men and 10,000 women were in the Wall Street-heavy financial sector: insurance agents, managers, clerks, securities sales agents, personal advisers and other specialists. Advanced- degree professions proved no better predictors of equality. Female doctors made 63 cents for every $1 earned by male physicians and surgeons, the data show. Female chief executives earned 74 cents for every $1 made by male counterparts.
Even in positions were women made up more than 90 percent of the workforce -- secretaries and administrative assistants -- they are "paid 87 cents for every $1 made by a male secretary," Bloomberg said.
The article added: "Among the 265 occupations with more than 10,000 men and women employed, female registered nurses earned 92 cents for every $1 earned by male colleagues. Female flight attendants made 89 cents for every $1. Female hairdressers, stylists and cosmetologists made 68 cents for every $1 earned by a man."
A 2009 study commissioned by the Bush administration that sought to downplay the existence of wage equality nevertheless found that there was "an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent." The report took into account several factors, including "occupation, human capital development, work experience, career interruption, motherhood, and industry sector."
Angle also claimed that "young female college graduates now often make more than men." But as Slate noted in its write-up of a Reach Advisors study that arrived at that conclusion, the firm "compared the median earnings of women and men aged 22 to 30 working full-time who do not have children and who live in the largest cities in the United States." It "did not address whether the men and women in the sample had similar skills or experience, or held the same kinds of jobs."
Institute for Women's Policy Research president Heidi Hartmann offers more thoughts here about wage equality studies.
In other words, contrary to Angle's statement, wage disparity in America is a very big deal. A wage gap does exist and it affects millions of American women -- half the U.S. population in fact and more than half the U.S. labor force. It's folly to pretend it isn't important or it doesn't exist. But it's what conservative media have consistently tried to do.
Angle's conclusions become all the more suspect when considering the events of the past week.
As Reuters reported, a federal judge on September 21 dismissed Wal-Mart's motion to squash a wage discrimination suit brought by women in California.
The case "accuses the company of systematically discriminating against women -- who, according to the plaintiffs' experts, were paid less than men and promoted less often," reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The article added that the plaintiffs have charged "that all California store managers are required to attend training sessions where they are cautioned that women may not be qualified for promotion."
Wal-Mart is among the nation's largest employers and the majority of the sales associates employed in its stores are women.
Another federal judge on Tuesday allowed a gender bias lawsuit against Costco to go forward. The case has been brought on behalf of several hundred women employees. The suit alleges that the warehouse chain has a company-wide policy of "limiting promotions of female employees to assistant general manager and general manager by failing to post job openings."
On Monday, a Yale University study found that "Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills." The article continued:
As a result, the report found, the professors were less likely to offer the women mentoring or a job. And even if they were willing to offer a job, the salary was lower.
The study, in which professors were provided with a summary of the applicant's qualifications that "portrayed the applicant as promising but not stellar," named the imaginary applicant as John in half of the resumes and Jennifer in the other half.
Nonetheless, the study found that the "average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508. To John it was $30,328."