This Equal Pay Day, COVID-19 crisis offers clarity on the wage gap

This Equal Pay Day, COVID-19 crisis offers clarity on the wage gap

Each spring, progressive feminists mark “Equal Pay Day,” or the day that women finally caught up to men’s earnings from the year before. This year, it’s March 31. 

Equal Pay Day is an attempt to raise awareness about the raw wage gap, the figure that shows that women, on average, earn about 80 cents for every dollar men earn. The date moves earlier each year as the wage gap closes, as women’s average wages rise faster than men’s. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic on our hands and more than 3 million jobless claims last week, Americans aren’t likely to pay much attention to a holiday based on a false metric for equality. How many wives will celebrate their husband’s pink slip in the name of equality? Answer: none. Men and women’s interests are ultimately tied, and that’s come into harrowing focus as families shelter together to try to get through this crisis. 

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And importantly, the wage gap is a raw comparison of averages. It doesn’t take into account factors like profession, seniority, education, hours, or working conditions that affect pay. 

Did you know that men are more susceptible than women to COVID-19? About 60 percent of the virus’s victims are male. This “gap” isn’t much talked about, but neither is any gap where men are the losers. Men face a life expectancy gap, perhaps due to spending years working more hours per week on average than women. And relatedly, men face a significant workplace injury and fatality gap: Men account for 10 times as many workplace deaths as women because they work in more dangerous settings.

All of the above factors contribute to the wage gap. Employers have to pay workers more to show up at jobs where they might get hurt, or even killed. 

Another important factor is the choice of profession. Men tend to congregate professions that are higher-paying, while women congregate in lower-paying fields. In fact, according to a study of college majors by GlassDoor, “Nine of the 10 highest paying majors we examined are male dominated. By contrast, 6 of the 10 lowest-paying majors are female dominated.”

As the country grapples with COVID-19 and temporarily shutters most commercial activity in response, now only certain industries are continuing to work as “essential.” In addition to healthcare, they are military, fire and public safety, mass transit, food and agriculture, energy and infrastructure, media, mail and a handful of others. Professions in most of these industries are male-dominated. Some of them, like truck drivers, lineworkers, and firefighters, are extremely male-dominated. Nursing, which is heavily female, is an exception.

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This is informative. Of course, many women are part of the so-called “essential workforce” and they deserve equal appreciation, equal thanks, and equal pay for doing these same critical jobs that many men do. Also important: many women are taking on a lion’s share of (both paid and unpaid) childcare duties to allow men to show up to work for critical jobs. But good money should follow these essential jobs, and the fact that men hold more of them is yet another way to understand the real root of the wage gap. 

Just as women don’t wish for our fathers, brothers, or sons to become victims of a virus, neither do men wish for women to be mistreated in the workplace. But “Equal Pay Day” and the wage gap behind it don’t represent mistreatment in the workplace. It’s simply not a measure of whether we have achieved equal pay for equal work, and therefore it’s not a metric of wage discrimination, which has long been illegal.

So many Americans are coming together in the midst of a crisis. “Equal Pay Day” is a divisive, inaccurate campaign meant to pit women and men’s interests against each other. It deserves to be ignored. Rather than focus on meaningless statistics, we will all need to focus on the more important matters of protecting public health and minimizing COVID-19’s economic consequences for men and women alike. 

Hadley Heath Manning is a policy director at Independent Women’s Forum.