Big Sister in the Workplace

Today there are twice as many women in the American workforce as there were four decades ago, three times as many women getting college degrees.  More working women than men now hold degrees.  The growth rate of female-owned businesses stands at four times the growth rate of male-owned businesses.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis acknowledges all of these statistics.

But it seems that an admission of reality by the head of the U.S. Labor Department is no guarantee that reality will influence Labor policy.  After touting dramatic progress by women in corporations, universities, and small businesses, Solis still thinks that government must do more for women.

Let's break down the reasoning.

Data: Women have doubled their presence in the workforce, tripled their presence in college, are now more educated than men, and are starting businesses at a much higher rate than men.

Conclusion: Women need help to catch up to men.

Ah, but the logic slides only farther downhill when the secretary describes the help that government should provide women.  After citing women's progress, Solis adds:

That's why the Labor Department is investing in workforce training for women to help America achieve a full economic recovery. And it's why we have placed a special emphasis on helping women advance in growing sectors like the clean energy economy, health care and information technology.

The passage consists of disconnected ideas jammed into a nonsensical jumble that impersonates a plan for action.  The reasoning is hard to follow because there are currently almost 14 million able-bodied but unemployed people in America -- a rate of 9.1 percent -- and it is not clear how preparing women for jobs that don't exist will help the situation.  How will grooming people for jobs killed by a bad economy "help America achieve a full economic recovery," especially in a "clean energy economy" that is a figment of green zealots' imaginations?

Lately Solis has been focusing on women's pay inequality.  Her justification?  The secretary cites a Labor Department study concluding that women today earn only 81 percent of what men earn.  But as the Manhattan Institute's Kay Hymowitz points out, the 81 percent statistic severely exaggerates the gender pay gap.  In fact, as Hymowitz also observes, a comparison considering similar jobs, similar education, and equivalent hours worked results in a gap which is only 5 percent favorable to men.  So in truth, the gender gap is actually one-fourth the size claimed by Solis.  Not only is Ms. Solis proposing illogical actions with respect to the stated purpose of achieving pay equality, but she is also amplifying the magnitude of gender pay inequality by 400 percent.

And yet the full depth of Solis's artfulness and illogicality was not reached until she went a step further, using the inflated gender gap to justify "vigorously enforcing the Family and Medical Leave Act and promoting flexible workplace initiatives so women can balance the demands of work and home."

Let's analyze.

There are two general paths which a part-time employee might take to get paid as well -- and be promoted as rapidly -- as full-time employees.  Either the part-timer demonstrates initiative far exceeding that of full-timers or some sort of forced "adjustment" is applied to compensation.  If we assume that female and male employees exhibit, on average, equivalent initiative and contribute to employer profits at roughly equal rates, then we can rule out the "superwoman" path to closing the gender gap.

This leaves the forced adjustment option to establishing pay parity between part-time female employees and full-time male employees.  So when Solis whips out the 400 percent-inflated gender gap to "vigorously" push "flexible workplace initiatives" which allow women to "balance the demands of work and home," one must wonder what the secretary has in mind.  Will the Obama-Solis Labor Department call for the United States government to coerce companies into promoting part-time female employees to, and paying them for, the same positions as men and other women who work full-time?

We have not yet seen the details of the embellishments that Hilda Solis has in mind for existing "flexible workplace initiatives."  We must not rule out the possibility that those embellishments will include forcing employers to allow some women to "balance the demands of work and home" but still credit those women for contributions which would have been made had the women worked full-time.  It is not at all hard to envision the Obama regime progressives arguing the "fairness" of such a method for measuring part-time female employees' job performance compared to that of full-time men.

Though hard to imagine, it is certainly possible that Washington progressives will get sidetracked from this latest effort to legislate or regulate fairness using impractical schemes.  Maybe progressives are already working on an even better fix for the ailing economy than twisting employers' arms on women's compensation.  Perhaps someone at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Reserve Bank, or Treasury will suggest that mortgage companies be forced to credit borrowers for payments that would have been made had the borrowers not chosen to not make the payments.  This should improve the economy for sure.

But now I'm probably just being nasty.

A writer, physicist, former high tech executive, and Cajun, Chuck Rogér invites you to sign up to receive his "Clear Thinking" blog posts by email at  Contact Chuck at

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