On April 10 -- Equal Pay Day -- Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., tweeted out her support for an end to differential pay for men and women.
Her tweet said, "It’s completely unacceptable that, on average, American women only earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for doing the same job. And the #paygap is even greater for most women of color. #EqualPayDay"
But there’s a problem: The statistics showing that women earn 80 percent of what men earn are overall comparisons and do not specifically compare men and women occupying the same jobs.
After we reached out to Smith’s office, she sent a new tweet to correct her earlier misstatement.
Let’s take a closer look at this commonly cited statistic.
The most recent official data on this point, published by the U.S. Census Bureau, showed that women earned 80.5 percent of what men did. That’s up by a couple percentage points in recent years.
However, as we’ve written previously, this figure actually refers to the general disparity between what men and women earn, not comparing cases of apples to apples.
The 80 percent figure does not adjust for such factors as the degrees and jobs women pursue, the time they take off to care for children, the number of hours they work, and the years of experience they’ve had.
So while the 80 percent figure may be used to signify some facets of women’s challenges in the workplace -- such as disproportionate representation in fields that offer more flexible work schedules, even if that means earning less -- the statistic cannot be used to pinpoint pay discrimination between men and women doing the same work.
Other studies have shown a significantly closer match for men and women holding the same jobs.
For instance, a 2013 study by the American Association of University Women that evened out those factors found a 7 percent wage gap between men and women a year after graduating college.
That’s still a disparity, but it’s only about one-third as big as the figure Smith cited in her tweet. (It’s also worth noting that the apples-to-apples pay differential varies depending on the job.)
Smith did have a point that women of color tend to fare more poorly on pay comparisons than do white women.
A 2014 report from the National Women’s Law Center concluded that black women made 60 cents to the dollar earned by a white man, and Hispanic women made 55 cents, according to the report.
Asian-American women actually earn higher wages than black and Hispanic men and women, as well as white women, Pew Research has found. Still, Asian-American women lagged behind white males for annual earnings.
A few hours after we contacted Smith’s office, they informed us that Smith had sent a new tweet correcting her previous one. In the new tweet, she removed the reference to "the same job" and continued:
"When I wrote about Equal Pay Day earlier this week, I said the 80 cents/$1 stat applies to men and women doing the same job. That last part—comparing particular job categories—wasn’t quite right. And I’m glad @PolitiFact reached out to me for clarification."
In Smith’s initial tweet, she wrote, "On average, American women only earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for doing the same job."
The official federal data shows that women earn 80 percent of what men earn, but that’s a collective average for all jobs, not a comparison of men and women holding identical jobs. For men and women holding the same job, there’s still a gap, but it’s substantially smaller.
Our policy is to acknowledge and applaud after-the-fact corrections by speakers we check, but we still put the original comment to the Truth-O-Meter. So Smith’s initial remark rates Mostly False.
Tina Smith, tweet, April 10, 2018
Tina Smith, tweet, April 12, 2018
U.S. Census Bureau, "Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016," Sept. 12, 2017
PolitiFact, "Taking a closer look at Florida Democrat's claims about the gender pay gap," March 14, 2017
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