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Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine fired off a fundraising email June 6 lamenting the defeat of the Paycheck Fairness Act the day before.
The legislation would have barred companies from retaliating against employees who inquire about pay discrimination and opened avenues for female workers to sue for punitive damages in cases of pay bias.
Kaine’s email called the bill’s failure "the latest example of women’s rights legislation being targeted by Republicans in the Senate."
Kaine’s wrote, "With a few more votes, we would have made an important step forward in helping narrow the gap between what women currently earn -- here in Virginia, only 79 cents to each dollar earned by men -- and the equal pay that they deserve," the email said.
Do working women in Virginia really earn only 79 percent of the pay of men? We checked.
Gender pay data
Kaine’s statement was based on two reports, according to Lily Adams, a campaign spokeswoman.
Both the National Women’s Law Center and the National Partnership for Women and Families, supporters of the Fairness Act, created fact sheets on wage disparity in each state.
The organizations relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks annual wages in its Current Population Survey. In 2010, the statistics and showed women made 77 cents for every dollar men earned across the country. President Barack Obama and other Democrats used the figure to urge passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The Census Bureau also reports state figures in its American Community Survey. They show in Virginia, women earned 79 cents for every dollar men made in 2010.
But the annual wage comparisons does not take into consideration those who work less than full-time and less than year-round.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looks at weekly wages instead of annual pay. The national median pay for women was $669 a week in 2010, or 81 percent of men’s median weekly pay of $824. The weekly wage data does not include the pay of self-employed people. But it does factor those who do not work year-round, such as teachers, some construction workers and seasonal workers. And, as with the annual figures, men tend to work more hours.
In Virginia, BLS figures show women in 2010 earned a median $719 a week, or 75.2 percent of men’s median weekly pay of $956. So while using weekly figures narrows the gender wage gap nationally, it broadens the disparity in Virginia.
The national gender gap shrinks for workers paid hourly rates. Women are paid 86 percent of the median hourly wages of men, according to the BLS data for 2010. This data includes those who work part-time, a status women seek more than men, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In 2010, 27 percent of women worked part-time compared to 13 percent of men did in 2010.
State-specific data is not available for hourly wages.
Which numbers are the best?
Experts disagree on the best way to measure pay disparity and why women make less than men.
"Hourly wage ratios are better than annual or weekly but none of them get to the important reasons for wage differentials," said June O’Neill, director of the Center for the Study of Business and Government at Baruch College at the City University of New York.
She added, "The underlying reason for the various differentials have been spelled out by me and other economists -- namely that women's greater ties to child care limit their choices of occupations and type of work."
O’Neill’s research shows that single, childless women make about the same as single, childless men in the same education in the same occupations.
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, reduce the pay gap to between 4 to 7 percent, which could be result of discrimination.
"As a result, it is not possible now, and doubtless will never be possible, to determine reliably whether any portion of the observed gender wage gap is not attributable to factors that compensate women and men different on socially acceptable bases, and hence can confidently be attributed to overt discrimination against women," the report said.
But where CONSAD concluded that adjusting for variables reduces the likelihood of discrimination, others disagree.
Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, said bias is not limited to the walls of the workplace. She said society expects women to work fewer hours than men so they can care for children.
"The focus on saying, ‘Is it direct discrimination?’ neglects that only part of this is direct discrimination," she said in an interview. "Really the rest is that women are more likely to take time out when they have children, but the question is whether you think that’s right when men and women have children but women are taking time off?"
She said the data that shows a 21-cent gap in Virginia has been used the longest and "provides the best reference for change over time." And the full-time, year-round employees the annual data includes are the "most committed" to work.
"Whichever way you measure a wage gap, a wage gap remains," Hegewisch said.
Tim Kaine said women earn 79 cents to each dollar that men earn in Virginia.
Of the two databases that measure pay for men and women in each state, Kaine used the one with the smaller earning gap in Virginia and described its finding accurately.
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.
Kaine’s statement lacks this context. It creates an impression that men are being paid much more than women when their qualifications, occupations and work hours are the same. So we rate his statement Mostly True.
Tim Kaine, "Lockstep," a campaign email, June 6, 2012.
Lily Adams, press secretary for Kaine campaign, June 11, 2012.
National Women’s Law Center, "The Importance of Fair Pay for Virginia Women," April 2012.
National Partnership for Women and Families, "Working Women and Virginia’s Wage Gap," April 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2010, accessed June 11, 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2010, accessed June 11, 2012.
Washington Post, "The White House’s use of data on the gender wage gap," June 5, 2012.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Women in the Workforce: A Databook," December 2011.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2010," July 2011.
CONSAD Research Corp., "An Analysis of Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women," Jan. 12, 2009.
Pew Research Center, "Fewer Mothers Prefer Full-Time Work," July 12, 2007.
Email from June O’Neill, director of the Center for the Study of Business and Government at Baruch College at the City University of New York, June 12, 2012.
Interview with Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, June 12, 2012.
Institute for Women’s Policy Research, "The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation," April 2012.
St. Louis Federal Reserve, "Gender Gap May Be Much Smaller Than Most Think," October 2011.
Hudson Institute, "The Paycheck Fairness Act," by June O’Neill, November 2010.
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