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Gillibrand’s Inaccurate Equal Pay Claim


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was wrong when she said it took until April 2 of this year for a female worker to “earn the same as a white man doing the same job” did in 2018.

That date actually marked Equal Pay Day for women, a public awareness campaign that brings attention to the gap in annual earnings between female and male workers, in general. It’s not based on race, or workers doing the same job.

“It’s all full-time workers” and “it’s not just white men,” said Michele Leber, the chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity, which originated Equal Pay Day in 1996.

Gillibrand, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, made her claim during an MSNBC interview the day of the event.

“[T]oday is Equal Pay Day,” Gillibrand told “Hardball” host Chris Matthews on April 2. “So it’s the day actually in the year when a woman has to work all last year and up until today to earn the same as a white man doing the same job.”

That’s not accurate, Leber told us by email.

This year’s Equal Pay Day for women was determined using Census Bureau figures for 2017, the most recent annual data available. That year, the real median earnings of men and women who work full-time, year round, were $52,146 and $41,977, respectively. That means the female-to-male earnings ratio was 80.5 percent (or 80 cents for every $1).

Based on that information, NCPE calculated that a woman earning the median amount would have to work 91 days into this year (in addition to all of 2018) to earn the same amount a man at the median level made last year alone. (The 91st day of 2019 was Monday, April 1, but NCPE says it has traditionally picked a Tuesday in April to bring national attention to the overall gender income gap.)

We contacted Gillibrand’s campaign about her claim, but didn’t receive a response.

She may have confused the observance on April 2 with other dates throughout the year that NCPE says do “symbolize how far into 2019 women in … designated groups have to work to earn what white men earned in 2018.”

Equal Pay Day for Asian American women, for example, was back on March 5, and the day for white women only is coming up on April 19. The days for black women, Native American women and Latinas are much later this year, on Aug. 22, Sept. 23 and Nov. 20.

The dates go in order in relation to the size of the gap in earnings for each group of women when compared with their white male counterparts.

Still, the data is for all year-round, full-time workers in those racial and ethnic groups. It’s not for those with the same occupation, as Gillibrand said.

Earnings Gap By Occupation

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently published a report analyzing the gap in median weekly earnings for male and female full-time workers doing the same job. IWPR says it is a nonpartisan think tank that “conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.”

The group’s report on 2018 earnings says that the female-to-male earnings ratio for all full–time weekly workers was 81.1 percent, and women’s percentage of their male counterparts’ median weekly earnings was higher than that in 14 of the top 20 most common occupations for women. Those who made nearly as much as their male counterparts included cashiers and customer service representatives (almost 99 percent); bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks (95 percent); social workers (nearly 94 percent); and registered nurses (91 percent). In two cases, female workers earned more than their male counterparts: receptionists and information clerks (102 percent) and general office clerks (nearly 105 percent).

On the other hand, the analysis shows that women do not earn more than men in any of the top 20 male-dominated occupations. The study didn’t find enough data for female workers to make a valid comparison in five of those fields: electricians, construction workers, grounds maintenance workers, carpenters or auto mechanics. In the other 15 professions for which comparable data are available, women earned more than 81.1 percent of their male counterparts’ earnings in just six professions, including customer service representatives (nearly 99 percent) and software developers (nearly 87 percent).

The IWPR report also notes that “[f]emale-dominated occupations tend to have lower median earnings than male-dominated occupations,” and that “[w]omen’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations,” overall.

As the IWPR report shows, pay equity varies for women based on their occupation, so Equal Pay Day isn’t April 2 for a woman working “the same job” as a white man – as Gillibrand said.

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April 2 is "the day actually in the year when a woman has to work all last year and up until today to earn the same as a white man doing the same job.”
Interview on MSNBC
Tuesday, April 2, 2019