With the national implications of Georgia’s U.S. Senate battle and the close battle for governor, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor recently tried to draw some attention to that overshadowed race by highlighting so-called women’s issues.
Connie Stokes, one of a handful of female candidates (all Democrats, save for the Libertarian choice for U.S. Senate) for statewide office, mentioned issues such as business, domestic violence and women’s health in a recent fundraising email.
Then she referenced an issue that has tripped up candidates all year: the pay gap between men and women.
"After serving in the state Senate for 10 years, it saddens me that women still do not get paid as much as men," Stokes wrote.
"There appears to be some discrepancy about the difference in the amount of money women are paid compared to men," she continued. "You know It does not matter what the difference is, women are paid less than men for the same work, period. "
Democrats from President Obama on down have emphasized the "gender wage gap" all year, in an apparent bid to woo the female voters that tend to favor the party to polls.
Stokes would need that turnout and then some to win her uphill battle against Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for the job that mostly presides over a tantrum-prone state Senate.
PolitiFact Georgia, and our PolitiFact national arm, have fact-checked various incarnations of the gender-wage claim before.
For example, we gave Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn a Mostly True rating in April for her statement, "On average, women make 77 cents for every dollar men make."
Her qualifier "on average" and broad statement kept the claim on target.
By contrast, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter – the grandfather of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter – earned a Mostly False rating for his statement that, "in the United States for the same exact work for a full-time employee, women get 23 percent less pay than men."
In those cases, they were referring to a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau study that examined total wages of male and female workers. Men’s total wages were about 23 percent higher than women’s, the study found.
But the gap was due in part to men working more hours, the study concluded. It did not look at pay rates for the same work or the same number of hours.
Stokes avoided the specifics of numbers in her statement. And other data backs up her claim of an overall wage gap between men and women. Her claim, however, gets more problematic as she gets more specific.
Looking at weekly wages, a 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found women earned 81 percent of men’s wages for all occupations (Table 18).
The gap is smaller than the Census figures, which rely on annual wages and can therefore include pensions, bonuses and other factors that widen the difference.
Those different conclusions show the inherent problem with bold statements on a wage gap, especially when referencing specific numbers.
Numbers also don’t tell the whole story about the second part of Stokes’ claim, that women are paid less "for the same work."
Again, the data overwhelmingly back up the broad claim – but not in every field.
The 2011 BLS report shows women actually earn 12 cents more than men in the food preparation/serving industries, 10 cents more as "billing and posting clerks and machine operators" and 5 cents more than men working as store clerks.
Yet beyond those three jobs, and looking at broad industry categories, women still earn less than men overall (Table 19).
Stokes said that was the point to her statement.
"We know the numbers don’t agree because of the variables, but we all know that women are paid less than men," Stokes said. "That’s the bottom line."
If the point is women earn less than men, it would be. But the comparisons are not as simple as they seem at first blush.
Experts agree on a gender-based wage gap. Yet differences in life choices such as occupational choices and hours worked can make simple comparisons tricky.
The gap can narrow, for instance, when accounting for education level and specific jobs. Stokes was on target to cite a gender pay gap. But vastly oversimplifies the "same work" claim -- it does matter what job is being performed.
Stokes claim is accurate on one level. But a lot of context is needed to really understand what is going on.
We rate her claim Half True.
Connie Stokes fundraising email, sent Aug.27, 2014
PolitiFact Georgia, "Nunn avoids slip up on gender pay claim." April 10, 2014
PolitiFact Georgia, "Carter exaggerates gender pay gap," April 4, 2014
U.S. Census Bureau study, "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010," September 2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics report, "Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2010," July 2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics report, "Women in the Labor Force: A Databook," re-issued Feb. 9, 2012
The American Association of University Women, "The simple truth about the gender pay gap," March 10, 2014
Washington Post Wonkblog, "Women earn 91 cents for every dollar men earn – if you control for life choices," June 5, 2012
Interview with Connie Stokes, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Sept. 11, 2014
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