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Facing the possibility of a historic female presidential candidacy by Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz sought to puncture the notion that Democratic policies have been good for women.
"Under Barack Obama and the big government economy, the median wage for women has dropped $733," Cruz said during the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo.
Have female workers really fared so poorly under Obama? We took a closer look at the earnings numbers for working women and found that Cruz’s claim is off.
The statistic closest to the one Cruz mentioned is calculated by the Census Bureau -- the median wage or salary for workers who are paid through wages or salaries. The bureau breaks those figures down by gender and adjusts the figures for inflation in order to enable comparisons across time.
In 2008, the last year before Obama took office, the median for women was $28,574. By 2014, that had risen to $29,098 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
That’s an increase of $524 over six years -- not a decline of $733, as Cruz said.
So Cruz is wrong using the most obvious benchmark. But he would have been on safer ground if he had said "income" rather than "wages," as he intended to do, Phil Novack, a spokesman for Cruz, confirmed to PolitiFact.
The Census Bureau separately calculates inflation-adjusted median income by gender. By this measure, the figure for women in 2008 was $22,945. By 2014, that had fallen to $22,240 -- a decline of $705, which is close to what Cruz said.
The wages-and-salaries statistic only includes gross employer compensation of employees. By contrast, the income statistic takes in a much larger mix of income flows, including commissions, bonuses, tips, self-employment income, interest, dividends, rental and royalty income, income from estates and trusts, Social Security and public assistance, child support and alimony, and unemployment and retirement benefits. Cruz specifically mentioned wages, which makes his statement less accurate.
Another wrinkle undercuts the relevance of the income statistic.
Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, said the wages-and-salaries statistic only applies to the 72 million-plus women undertaking paid work. The income figure applies to every woman over the age of 15 -- more than 112 million in all.
Since Cruz referenced wages -- which are earned from work -- he seems to be talking about bad economic trends for working women. Given this, Burtless said, "I’m not sure why the median income number is relevant." A lot of the 112 million with income of any kind are homemakers or retired, he said, and with the aging of the baby boom generation, lots of women (and men) are retiring from jobs and beginning to draw Social Security or pensions that don’t pay as much as their old jobs did. This could be the source of the decline in income, even as wages are rising for the smaller group of working women.
Cruz said that "under Barack Obama and the big government economy, the median wage for women has dropped $733."
That's wrong. Wages actually have risen for women since Obama took office. Cruz's spokesperson said Cruz intended to use a different phrase. But at PolitiFact, we say words matter. The statement is not accurate and we rate it False.
CNBC Republican debate in Boulder, Colo., transcript, Oct. 28, 2015
Census Bureau, Table P-53: Wage or Salary Workers by Median Wage or Salary Income and Sex, accessed Oct. 29, 2015
Census Bureau, Table P-8. Age—People by Median Income and Sex, accessed Oct. 29, 2015
Census Bureau, glossary, accessed Oct. 29, 2015
FactCheck.org, "FactChecking the CNBC Debates," Oct. 29, 2015
Email interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Oct. 29, 2015
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, economist at George Washington University and job site Indeed, Oct. 29, 2015
Email interview with Phil Novack, spokesman for Cruz, Oct. 29, 2015
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