Deception & Misdirection

The overtime rule, women in the workplace, and that 79 percent untruth

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

Old joke: The three biggest lies are “The check is in the mail,” “Of course I’ll respect you in the morning,” and “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

Now comes the long-expected “overtime rule,” announced this week by the Labor Department, that will hurt businesses and consumers, employers and employees, but is presented by the Obama administration as something that will help people.

The rule dramatically expands overtime pay eligibility for salaried employees, making salaried employees earning under $47,476 eligible for overtime pay, which is over a 100 percent from the current salary threshold of $23,660. It applies to businesses with at least $500,000 in sales. An estimated 4.2 million new workers will suddenly become overtime eligible.

How will businesses cope? Examining a slightly different version of the overtime rule that was being considered, Trey Kovacs of the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote of the effects of such a rule: “Cutting wages would make up for 80 percent of overtime costs, according to U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Anthony Barkume. Or businesses could hire more part-time employees and hourly workers, limiting workers’ hours to 40 and reducing fringe benefits. Workers will bear the brunt of the harmful impact of the overtime rule and its unintended consequences. Salaried employees now on a management track may have their work status downgraded to hourly, which will have some impact on their long-term career prospects, earnings, and other benefits, like healthcare and a pension.”

The overtime rule will be particularly tough on women. In the December 2014 issue of Labor Watch, Diana Furchtgott-Roth noted that, as the rule was proposed, “employees who receive overtime pay would not be allowed to take time off, or comp time; they would have to receive overtime pay. Some people may prefer overtime pay, but others, especially working mothers, may prefer more leisure. . . . Overtime rules hurt women by reducing flexibility with their employer. Many women with children, particularly young mothers who cannot afford childcare, would prefer flexibility in their schedule rather than extra overtime pay. When overtime hours are allowed to count toward time off instead of pay, women can change their work schedules according to their needs.”

Most liberals claim to care about women in the workplace. Hillary Clinton, for example, makes much of the wage gap between men and women, and says she’ll fix it. It’s part of her effort to get women’s vote despite her history. (That history includes helping her estranged husband get away with his serial abuse of women. It also includes her policies as Secretary of State, which set women in the Middle East back decades, perhaps hundreds of years, and which today threaten the women of Europe with a flood of migrants from a culture in which women are subjugated, sexually abused, often sexually mutilated.)

Clinton’s not the only one who claims to be a champion of women. Take Kathleen Mathews, wife of MSNBC personality Chris Mathews, who recently ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) as the candidate of women. In her TV commercials, she asked: “Why does Congress think it is okay that women get paid 20 percent less than a man for doing the same job?” That question is based on a common but fake belief. It’s true that a median female full-time worker makes 21 percent less than a median male full-time worker, but, as noted by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, “the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the gap is 17 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages—15 cents—but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers. Annual wage figures do not take into account the fact that teachers—many of whom are women—have a primary job that fills nine months out of the year.”

The more factors you consider, the smaller the gap appears. It turns out that the average woman has less work experience than the average man; the average woman works more weeks part-time rather than full-time, compared to men; and, in Kessler’s words, “women tend to leave the workforce for periods to raise children, seek jobs that may have more flexible hours but lower pay, and choose careers that tend to have lower pay.” Women make up more than 60 percent of college students, which should mean they will make more money, but women are the majority in nine of the 10 lowest-paying majors while men are the majority in nine of the 10 highest-paying majors. And men take the vast majority of jobs that are dangerous or require back-breaking manual labor.

In some circumstances, the gap narrows significantly or disappears. Comparing never-married women to never- married men, the gap is six cents, not 21. And, according to a 2010 study as reported by Time magazine, women under 30 made more than men under 30 in 147 of 150 cities surveyed. “In two cities, Atlanta and Memphis, those women are making about 20% more. . . . with young women in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego making 17%, 12% and 15% more than their male peers, respectively.”

Nevertheless, “From a political perspective,” Kessler wrote, “the Census Bureau’s 79-cent figure is golden. Unless women stop getting married and having children, and start abandoning careers in childhood education for aerospace engineering, the gap in wages will almost certainly persist. Democrats thus can keep bringing it up every year.”

Dr. Steven J. Allen

A journalist with 45 years’ experience, Dr. Allen served as press secretary to U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton and as senior researcher for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. He earned a master’s…
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