- - Wednesday, May 22, 2019


This is the season when presidential candidates are learning that running for president isn’t as easy as they thought it would be. This is the time to start looking for something to rescue a faltering campaign. Sen. Kamala Harris is trying to lift hers with an ambitious scheme to narrow the gender pay gap, the difference between the earnings of men and women. Companies with even a 1 percent gap between the two sexes could be fined under her scheme.

An analysis of salaries in both her Senate office and her campaign office, made by the Washington Free Beacon, found that men are paid a higher median salary than women. In her Senate office’s most recent six-month disclosure, covering the period from April 1, 2018, through Sept. 31, 2018, the median male salary was $34,999 and the median female salary was $32,999. In the previous previous six-month period men were paid $27,167 and the women were paid $25,749.97. The pay gap was similar in the first full month of the senator’s presidential campaign, when the women were paid about 87 percent of the median male salary. In her own world, where all rough places have been sanded plain, the senator would be about to write a check to the government.

The senator is no secret misogynist, deliberately setting out to pay men more than women. It’s more likely that her offices resemble thousands of workplaces across the country, where more women than men are employed in jobs requiring lower skills. In a large company there are always more female secretaries and administrative assistants, and more men in management positions who get the bigger bucks. The solution to this “problem” isn’t to pay a CEO the same salary the company pays a secretary, but to encourage more women to rise to higher-paying jobs. With more women than men graduating from college now, and more companies looking for talented women, this is a self-correcting problem.

It’s misleading to tally the company’s employees, average the salaries of men and women and declare there’s an injustice at hand because the male salaries are higher than female salaries. This doesn’t take into account different jobs, skill levels or years of experience. Sen. Harris pledges she will enforce her rule by executive order if she becomes the president. This is an unreasonable promise of government overreach based on an unworkable standard. This is the season to promise the unworkable, and with 25 or so candidates it’s difficult to come up with more pie in the sky than the pie of the other guys. The senator knows better, and she adds nothing of value to the conversation.

Unfortunately, the Department of Labor engages in similarly flawed analysis in looking for pay disparities at companies that do business with the federal government. Directive 307, promulgated in 2013 under President Barack Obama, is designed to determine “whether there are gender, race, or ethnicitybased disparities” enforced by federal contractors. This is a worthy goal, but the tactics used to search for disparities is as facile as the system Sen. Harris proposes to measure the gender gap in wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has looked into Directive 307 and finds that compliance officers are often tempted to compare apples and oranges. Compliance officers may examine salaries of “employees in managerial roles without regard to function or role,” or “employees in different job titles who may or may not be in the same job group. They’ve compared salaries between “all exempt and nonexempt employees in a location.” Imagine counting up the payroll of a baseball team and being scandalized that Bryce Harper is making more money than the bat boy.

Sen. Harris probably imagined that this pander would buoy her campaign. Her campaign is slipping and she is anxious to narrow the gap between herself and the leaders of this week, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. She must be careful not to fall into the reality gap.

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