U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, recently endorsed the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would protect women against wage discrimination.
"Women earn on average 80-cents on the dollar compared to white men doing similar jobs," he said at the start of a Feb. 26 hearing on the bill before the House Education and Labor Committee. Scott is chairman of the panel.
PolitiFact has heard many versions of the 80-percent pay comparison and has found the statistic is often misused. Let’s take a close look at Scott’s statement.
Stephanie Lalle, Scott’s deputy communications director, told us the congressman got the statistic from separate reports published in late 2018 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Both reports said the statistic comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest gender-gap statistics from the Bureau show in 2017 women earned 80.5 percent of what men made - the same percentage as in 2016.
The median earnings of men working full-time, year-round in 2017 was $52,146, compared to $41,977 for women.
But there’s a catch: The statistics are across-the-board comparisons for all jobs lumped together and do not specifically compare men and women performing the same jobs. Many people, citing the statistic, wrongly use it as an apples-to-apples comparison of pay for equal work.
Scott’s statement, however, is nuanced. He says women get 80 percent pay for doing "similar" jobs as white men, which is different than saying the "same" job as men.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on similar jobs, comparing the median usual weekly earnings of full-time men and women in 121 occupations. Overall, it found that women earned 81.8 percent of what men made - slightly higher than the Census’ estimate. The women-to-men pay ranged from 59 percent for personal financial advisers, to 108 percent for dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers.
Here are women-to-men pay comparisons for some other occupations:
- •Fast food servers, 97 percent;
- •Computer programmers, 89 percent;
- •Secondary school teachers, 89 percent;
- •Janitors, 84 percent;
- •Installation and repairs, 83 percent.
- •Lawyers, 83 percent;
- •Physicians and surgeons, 77 percent; and
- •Retail sales, 74 percent.
Women out-earned men in three occupations: wholesale and retail buying; frontline supervisor of construction trades and extraction workers; and, as we mentioned, dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers.
Fact-checking Scott, however, requires a deeper dive. The percentages we just discussed compare the full-time weekly earnings of all women to all men in these occupations. Scott, in his statement, compared the earnings of all women to white men in similar jobs.
The BLS’s data set that compares gender pay by specific jobs does not sort men and women by race. It does, however, categorize the jobs into 22 broad fields of work and, in each of those fields, breaks down women and men by sex.
Overall in 2018, women earned 78.7 percent as much as white men in the same areas of work. The comparison of women’s pay to white men’s produces a bigger gender gap than the comparison to all men. That’s because white males tend to earn more than black males.
White men out-earned women in all 22 fields of work.
Is it all discrimination?
Scott, in his remarks, repeatedly linked the disparity to gender discrimination. The bill he endorsed says "many women continue to earn significantly lower pay than men for equal work," and states, "In many instances, the pay disparities can only be due to continued intentional discrimination or the lingering effects of past discrimination."
The bill would expand wage-disclosure requirements for employers and add protections for employees who investigate gender-pay at their workplace or claim gender pay bias.
But, as PolitiFact has written before, many researchers have concluded the causes of gender pay disparity go far beyond discrimination.
"The most important source of the gender wage gap is that women assume greater responsibility for child-rearing than men," June O’Neill an economist at Baruch College, wrote in a 2010 op-ed for the The Wall Street Journal. "That influences women's extent and continuity of work, which affects women's skills and therefore wages. In addition, women often seek flexible work schedules, less stressful work environments, and other conditions compatible with meeting the demands of family responsibilities. Those come at a price—namely, lower wages."
An 2009 analysis by the nonpartisan CONSAD Research Corp. in Pittsburgh also concluded that the wage gap is not simply a product of sexism. CONSAD found that three-fourths of the disparity can be explained by other trends common to women: they tend to choose occupations that have relatively low wages; they tend have degrees leading to lower-paying occupations than men; they tend to have a shorter work history and take more time off from work for childbirth and child care.
CONSAD said these factors, when considered, reduced the pay gap to between 4 to 7 percent which could be result of discrimination.
A 2013 study by the American Association of University Women tried to even out the child-rearing effect on women’s pay. It found a 7 percent wage gap between men and women a year after graduating college.
Scott said, "Women earn on average 80-cents on the dollar compared to white men doing similar jobs."
BLS statistics support Scott, showing the median pay of white men in 2018 was higher than that of all women in each of 22 job fields listed in the data set.
We take issue with Scott’s context, however. He presents pay disparity as the product of discrimination. But gender pay is a complicated subject and there are many reasons - in addition to discrimination - why a gap exists: women tend to work fewer hours than men; they tend to choose lower paying professions than men; they tend to take more time off than men to tend to children.
Scott’s statement, and his entire speech, lack this framework. So we rate his claim Mostly True.
Correction: Women earned 78.7 percent as much as white men, overall, in 22 broad fields of work in 2018, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. An earlier version of this story misstated these statistics.