As part of her hour-long August 20 special edition of Now about to "women's issues," MSNBC's Alex Wagner devoted a 10-minute-long segment to the so-called pay gap -- women earning on average 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Wagner's guests, Salon's Joan Walsh, Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lilly Ledbetter predictably did their parts to help Wagner sell the pay gap issue as one with Republicans in the dark ages and Democrats as the white knights. "Why are Senate Republicans still fighting legislation to account for that gap and to make pay equal," Wagner asked Warren at the start of the segment.
But alas, the so-called pay gap is a "a solid statistic" that has been "described incorrectly" in anti-Republican attack ads, Politifact noted back in June (emphasis mine):
The campaign is wrong to say that the 77-cent figure describes the pay differences between men and women "doing the same work." (By contrast, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine recently earned a Mostly True on a similar claim because he was not specifying the number was for the same occupations.)
The 77-cent figure compares all male and female workers, regardless of their occupation. Whether due to a historical legacy of discrimination or because of personal choice, women and men are disproportionately represented in certain jobs. For instance, women dominate the ranks of receptionists, nurses, and elementary and middle-school teachers, among other fields. Men are disproportionately truck drivers, managers and computer software engineers.
"If more men tend to be employed in occupations that pay higher wages both to men and women, then men may enjoy an overall earnings advantage even if all women in each occupation receive exactly the same hourly pay as the men who are employed in the occupation," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution.
Indeed, if you look at men and women working in the same professions, the pay gap is much smaller (though for most professions, it doesn’t disappear entirely).
For computer programmers, for instance, women earn 95 cents for every dollar a man earns. For cashiers it’s 92 cents. For cooks and customer service representatives, it’s 95 cents.
The point is pretty clear, a statistical pay gap doesn't mean widespread pay discrimination, which, to be determined clearly would require an instance of the same employer paying equally-qualiified employees of different genders different pay rates.
An enterprising reporter found precisely that in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. The problem for the liberal media, of course, was that it was Senate Democrats, including female senators, who might be hit with the charge of a pay gap favoring male staffers.
From a May 24 story by Andrew Stiles of the Washington Free Beacon (my emphasis added):
A group of Democratic female senators on Wednesday declared war on the so-called “gender pay gap,” urging their colleagues to pass the aptly named Paycheck Fairness Act when Congress returns from recess next month. However, a substantial gender pay gap exists in their own offices, a Washington Free Beacon analysis of Senate salary data reveals.
Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.), Patty Murray (D., Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.
Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a “war a women,” is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 33.8 percent.
That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide. The figure is based on a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, and is technically accurate. However, as CNN’s Lisa Sylvester has reported, when factors such as area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace are taken into account, the gap shrinks to about 5 percent.
A significant “gender gap” exists in Feinstein’s office, where women also made about $21,000 less than men in 2011, but the percentage difference—41 percent—was even higher than Murray’s.
Boxer’s female staffers made about $5,000 less, a difference of 7.3 percent.
The Free Beacon used publicly available salary data from the transparency website Legistorm to calculate the figures, and considered only current full-time staff members who were employed for the entirety of fiscal year 2011.
The employee gender pay gap among Senate Democrats was not limited to Murray, Boxer, and Feinstein. Of the 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus examined in the analysis, 37 senators paid their female staffers less than male staffers.
While the gap is significant, it is slightly smaller than that of the White House, which pays men about $10,000, or 13 percent, more on average, according to a previous Free Beacon analysis.
The pay differential is quite striking in some cases, especially among leading Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who runs the Senate Democratic messaging operation, paid men $19,454 more on average, a 36 percent difference.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) paid men $13,063 more, a difference of 23 percent.
Other notable Senators whose “gender pay gap” was larger than 23 percent:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.)—47.6 percent
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.)—40 percent
Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.)—34.2 percent
Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.)—31.5 percent
Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.)—30.4 percent
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.)–29.7 percent
Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.)–29.2 percent
Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.)—26.5 percent
Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore)—26.4 percent
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa)—23.2 percent
Sen. Sanders, who is an avowed socialist who caucuses with the Democrats, has the worst gender gap by far. He employed more men (14) than women (10), and his chief of staff is male. Like many of his fellow partisans, he has previously accused Republicans of “trying to roll back the clock on women’s rights.”
In fairness, and again, remember, a pay gap is NOT necessarily evidence of pay discrimination, Stiles noted that:
One possible explanation for the pay disparity is the noticeable preference among Senate Democrats’ for male chiefs of staff, who typically draw the highest congressional salaries. Of the 46 Democratic Senators listing a chief of staff on their payroll in 2011, 13 were women.
A similar disparity exists in the White House, which employs 74 men and only 48 women in senior positions.
That being said, today's Now with Alex Wagner was devoted to the proposition that Republicans are retrograde when it comes to issues of concern to women, while Democrats were doing their level best to fight for fairness.
Wagner's omission of inconvenient truths on the pay gap issue only highlights that she's a partisan activist, not a journalist.