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Monday: August 22, 2005

More On Comparable Worth

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:22 PM UTC

Pinch-hitting for Michelle Malkin, Betsy Newmark writes about the idiocy of comparable worth legislation. She hands over the technical argument to her husband, an economist. All this dredged up memories from a quarter-century ago.

I was living in San Francisco when I first heard of comparable worth in 1979 or 1980. One of the first studies was done by the city of San José, and I was interested enough – and dubious enough – to spend $5 and send away for my own copy. It may be in the bottom of one of the boxes I haven’t unpacked yet, but I may have discarded it: I certainly haven’t seen it in years. If it turns up, I’ll see how accurate my memories are after so many years and update this post.

The argument made a huge impression on me, and I still have vivid (though perhaps inaccurate) memories of some of the details. As I recall, thirty different city jobs were arranged in a grid or table of two columns and fifteen rows. Jobs dominated by women were in one column (the left, I think), those dominated by men in the other. The two most difficult jobs, one all-female, the other mostly male, were in the top row, two slightly less difficult jobs in the next row, and so on down to the two easiest jobs. Average salaries were given for each. The reader was supposed to be impressed by the fact that the jobs in the mostly-male column all paid quite a bit more than the ‘comparable’ jobs in the other column – 25% to 40%, as I recall. I was impressed by the fact that the study equated jobs that were clearly not equal. The two bottom jobs were Copy Machine Operator (no maintenance or repair involved) for women and Junior (or perhaps Apprentice) Painter for men. These may be equally easy in most ways, though it would be hard to prove, but the latter is far more likely to lead to premature death, what with all the time spent leaning from tall stepladders. I would expect it to pay more. The two top jobs were Senior Librarian and Senior Chemist, and I don’t suppose I have to say which was mostly male and which was all female. As with all the other jobs, the criteria for equating these two were not stated, but I imagine it was something like ‘both require a Master’s degree in the subject and 10 years full-time experience’. The fact that Chemistry is a far more difficult subject than Library Science, and that chemists often spend their days dealing with toxic, carcinogenic, and explosive substances instead of harmless books and magazines, must have been omitted from the criteria used to equate the two jobs. The other thirteen pairs of supposedly equal jobs were just as blatantly unequal, though I’ve forgotten the details. In short, the study was hogwash, baloney, nonsense – I’m trying to be polite here – an attempt to argue for equal pay for unequal work.

The other thing that struck me about the study was that the lowest paid of all thirty jobs, Copy Machine Operator, paid only $200 (less than 2%) per year less than I was making as Senior Programmer for a small company measuring air pollution, supervising one other Programmer and four Data Processors. The grossest inequality in the study was the one between the city of San José and private industry.

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