Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Truth and the Gender Wage Gap

Having squandered so much credibility with his repeated promise that the Affordable Care Act would allow people to keep their insurance and their doctors, and reduce their premiums by $2500, none of which turned out to be true, one might have expected the President to be especially circumspect in his subsequent pronouncements.

Yet there he was at the State of the Union letting fly another whopper. This article at The Daily Beast, a website of generally liberal proclivities, has the details:
President Obama repeated the spurious gender wage gap statistic in his State of the Union address. “Today,” he said, “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”

What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers.

In its fact-checking column on the State of the Union, the Washington Post included the president’s mention of the wage gap in its list of dubious claims. “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.”
Perhaps President Obama knew this claim was false and made it anyway, but the more charitable interpretation is that he really believed it and was simply unaware that it's not true. Even so, one could understand the President erring in an off-the-cuff comment, but a statistic delivered during the SOTU speech has surely been vetted and researched. It seems highly improbable that its recitation by the President would have been done in ignorance of its lack of veracity.

It's an uncomfortable position in which Mr. Obama places the American people. We're being asked to decide whether the leader of our nation is a man willing to deliberately and glibly deceive us, or is simply uninformed and/or incompetent. None of these possibilities are reassuring. Nor, of course, is the possibility that he could be all of the above.

Why is it that our political leaders so often seem unworthy of the trust invested in them by the people who elect them? To what extent do they simply mirror and exploit our own low regard for the truth?