Michigan 4th-Greatest 'Wage Gap' in US? Hardly

According to a new analysis from the American Community Survey, published by Slate magazine in collaboration with the New America Foundation, in 2010 Michigan had the fourth largest pay disparity between women and men at 62 cents for every dollar, respectively. With neither a regard for employment type and qualification nor the unprecedented unemployment in Michigan, this study can be considered just another propaganda piece for the partisan “War on Women.”

The article refers to the ACS Median Earnings calculation in the past 12 months (in 2011 inflation-adjusted dollars). The trouble with this type of calculation is that it sounds comprehensive, when it actually neglects all sorts of factors. The survey doesn’t take into account choice of profession, field of interest, number of years on the job nor part-time versus full-time employment, to name a few. That’s like claiming employers are sexist because more men are injured or die on the job, with no consideration whatsoever for choice of field, salary incentive, willingness to travel, etc.

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In fact, the survey captures nothing more than how easy it is to conflate two categories when it comes to such complex sociocultural topics. For instance, in 2008 the BLS conducted a survey to measure married parents’ use of time. While married mothers who were employed full-time averaged more time at home than their husbands, 65 percent of those with a child under age 6 worked on an average day, compared to 71 percent whose youngest child was between ages 6 to 17. (To put these numbers in perspective, recognize that 73 percent of married fathers employed full-time worked on an average day, regardless of child’s age.) This means that even among women, there were – pause for effect – different weighed incentives depending on the woman.

Furthermore, the average workday was not the same for men and women – the same BLS study observed that married fathers employed full-time worked 42.6 hours per week, and married mothers employed full-time worked 36 hours per week. 

Equal pay should mean equal work, but of course what is “equal work” is a devilishly hard category to track.

Earlier this year the University of Michigan sought to answer that question and explored whether there was a gender discrepancy in the University of Michigan Medical School tenured and tenure-track faculty salaries. The first clause of the study’s results is self-explanatory: “Compensation in the Medical School is complicated.”

They found that women made less than men on average. They then went on to say “It is important to reemphasize that our regression analyses consider only some of the variables that should predict salary. They omit important factors that account for individual salary differentials, including measures of performance, scholarly reputation, as well as the quality and quantity of an individual’s contributions to the institution and to his/her academic field.”

One would think those were essential factors to any discussion of salary. They also failed to take into account the department or specialty within medicine – which as any med school student knows, has a huge impact on salary.

By manufacturing a story about misogyny and sexism run riot in the state of Michigan, the Slate study missed the National Forest for the trees. What’s buried within the ACS data is the real story: In Michigan, the percentage of both a husband and wife in the labor force who are unemployed is 20.8 percent. That means one-fifth of families have neither partner working.

Before we start crusading over alleged pay gaps, it is necessary that people have jobs. Unemployment in Michigan is at 9.3 percent, which is particularly unsettling because we’ve been diminishing in population since 2000. Comparing apples to oranges as these “wage gap” stories do is a disservice to readers, but running a story that manipulates identity politics rather than covering the growing unemployment in Michigan is the larger issue. 

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