Waging war on Equal Pay Day: Limbaugh distorted wage gap between men and women

Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that the “wage gap” between male and female workers -- which reflects that working women currently make only 76 cents for every dollar that men earn -- is a “BS ... 30-year-old figure.” Limbaugh insisted that the true wage gap has “changed” but that the statistic hasn't been “update[d].” Limbaugh also affirmed a caller's false assertion that “the statistic compares all women to all men -- not just women who are working versus men who are working.” In fact, the 76 cents figure is derived from income data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau for full-time working men and women in 2003.

According to the Census figures, which include only “full-time, year-round workers,” the average female earned $30,700 in 2003 compared to $40,700 for the average male -- roughly 76 cents on the dollar. Women's rights activists have highlighted this figure in anticipation of Equal Pay Day on April 19.

The 2003 figures actually represent a slight step backward in the effort to achieve pay equity. The Census Bureau noted: “The ratio of female-to-male earnings in 2003 for full-time, year-round workers was 76 percent, a decline from 77 percent in 2002, because of a decline in the earnings of female year-round full-time workers.”

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) reportedPDF file in October 2003 that the wage gap has narrowed only modestly in the last several decades. GAO reported a “small but statistically significant decline in the earnings difference” between 1983 and 2000: “The analysis indicated that the difference declined by about 0.3 percentage points per year, on average.” GAO also found that even when it controlled for independent variables that skeptics of the discrepancy often cite in order to minimize the significance of the wage gap -- such as race, age, education, work experience, and activity in the labor market -- women earned about 21 percent less than men [79 cents on the dollar] during that period.

From the April 15 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

CALLER: I'm bothered by the statistic that they use to support Equal Pay Day. They make it sound like women only earn 76 percent of men.

LIMBAUGH: I know. That is BS. I mean, that's a 30-year-old figure, and it has changed. They don't update it, just like the Reverend [Jesse] Jackson doesn't update the racial progress we make in the country. He'd be out of business if he did, and so would the female equal-pay crowd.


CALLER: I believe, from what I've read, that the statistic compares all women to all men -- not just women who are working versus men who are working, but all women to all men.