Thursday, January 30, 2014

PolitiFact makes its set of gender wage gap stories even less coherent

In a 2013 article, "PolitiFact and the 77-cent solution," we pointed out PolitiFact's inconsistency on gender gap claims.  There's a wage gap between men and women, primarily created by different job choices, and that gap is acceptably represented by the $.77 figure.  The Department of Justice estimates that about 40 percent of the $.23 shortfall, about $.09, occurs as a result of discrimination.

For claims about a gender wage gap in the range of $.77 on the dollar, PolitiFact's seven ratings at the time ranged  from "Half True" to "True."  In addition, Mitt Romney accurately claimed men make more than women in Obama's White House and received a "Half True" rating.

For claims where that gap was said to apply to the same work, PolitiFact gave two "Mostly False" ratings, including one to President Obama.

President Obama used the 77-cent figure during his State of the Union address.  And PolitiFact was on it, giving the president a "Mostly True" rating.

What did Obama say?  PolitiFact reports:
During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made a claim about pay for women in today’s economy.

"You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns," Obama said. "That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work."
We think when Obama says the 23-cent gap is "wrong" and "an embarrassment" leading to a call for equal pay for equal work, it strongly implies the president is claiming the 23-cent gap occurs as a result of gender discrimination.

We don't see any other reasonable way to interpret the statement.

PolitiFact doesn't see it that way:
We struggled a bit with how to classify the claim Obama made in the State of the Union, since his phrasing was somewhat ambiguous. He used the more accurate formulation, but he then followed up two sentences later by saying, "Women deserve equal pay for equal work." Did Obama’s "equal pay for equal work" line suggest that he believes the 77-cent pay differential refers to statistical comparisons of "equal work"? Or was this sentence simply a philosophical statement that was distinct from the statistical claim?

Ultimately, we decided that Obama’s statement that "women deserve equal pay for equal work" was aspirational rather than a part of his statistical claim, so we’re judging him on his claim that women "make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns."
What purpose does the 77-cent figure serve in the president's speech other than to show the relevance of his call for equal pay for equal work?

Why would a 23-cent gap be wrong if it occurs on the basis of the free-market choices of employees and not gender discrimination?

It's obvious President Obama was making a sly version of the claim he made that PolitiFact rated "Mostly False":  He implied that the gap exists based on gender discrimination.

PolitiFact didn't want to see it.

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