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Bogus "Equal Pay Day" encourages bad LA bills

The inevitable caterwauling, fueled by bleating from earlier this week, about a nonexistent problem inevitably will end up ready to waste Louisiana legislators’ time.

About as inevitably as herpes recurring, every year since 2003 with the exception of 2008, and sometimes in multiples, the Legislature has seen introduction of a bill purporting to address “pay equality.” Filers have included a pair of past Members of Congress (one returned to the Senate last year), the frontrunner for a House seat (vacated by the other former Member), and the current Mayor-President of Baton Rouge.

These haven’t varied much. They all base themselves on a statistic that women make only X cents on the dollar to men in pay, and therefore government regulation becomes necessary to stamp out the alleged “discrimination.” This year’s version, as unveiled by activists testifying to Congress vetting this foolishness and echoed during yesterday’s “Equal Pay Day,” is 82 cents. Activists select the day as an indicator of how many extra days into the next year a woman supposedly must work to match a man’s compensation.

Of course, the statistic is bogus. It merely looks at median (not average) earnings for all men and women and leaves out the necessary context to understand the difference. That being: women work fewer hours a week and days a year and spend fewer years in the workforce; and women disproportionately choose educational paths and take employment in career paths that lead to lower pay (by way of extreme example, in 2016-17 women comprised only 17 percent of the highest-paying college degree recipients, in petroleum engineering, while making up 92 percent of the 667th-highest paying one, women’s studies).

When factoring out these influences, as numerous studies have revealed, ends up shrinking the gap considerably. The most recent effort puts the difference at two cents. And that is more likely an artifact of sampling error and/or factors other than out and out discrimination, which already is illegal under federal law and thereby severely constrained in practice by it.

As with proposed laws at the federal level, the past state versions would have the opposite impact of aiding women by the incorrect diagnosis that differences must come primarily from phantom discrimination. These would discourage flexible workplace offerings that typically working women access more frequently than do men.

Almost certainly at some point some legislator will waste one of the five “non-fiscal” (and non-local) bills permitted to be filed for this upcoming session on something like that. So, let’s get out the way right now this reminder of why this kind of measure makes for bad policy.

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