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Equal pay debate: Women are doing fine – it’s men we should worry about

The Senate will likely consider and vote on The Paycheck Fairness Act this week or next. One has to wonder why.

Strong laws already prohibit discrimination against women. They require “paycheck fairness” as well as unbiased policies on promotion, hiring, firing and more. Despite President Obama’s State-of-the-Union claim, working conditions for women are far removed from the world of “Mad Men.”

Strong laws already prohibit discrimination against women. They require “paycheck fairness” as well as unbiased policies on promotion, hiring, firing and more.

In fact, women are doing fine. Men, however, are not.

Women Already Have the Law behind Them

Discrimination against women in the workplace is illegal; state and federal law – along with mountains of regulations and plentiful case history – is sweeping and clear. Yes, discrimination against women still occurs. But when it does, women have a remedy. Two settlements within the last eight months show the law at work on “paycheck fairness”:

  • 4,800 women won a $39 million settlement from Merrill Lynch, saying the male financial advisers and trainees were given the most lucrative accounts and other advantages (September 2013).
  • 700 women won an $8 million settlement from Costco, pointing to discriminatory promotional patterns that resulted in men having 87 percent of the store manager jobs (December 2013).

Another oft-repeated “fact” – by none other than Beyoncé – is that “women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.” 

That figure is bogus. A study done for the U.S. Department of Labor found that, when you take into account real-world factors such as occupation, experience and hours worked, women earn 95 cents on the dollar that men earn. 

A 5-cent gap says there is still a problem, but it frames the magnitude of the issue very differently. It comports with what women report about their own experience; only 18 percent say they’ve personally experienced discrimination in the workplace.

Proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act are either stuck in the ’70s zeitgeist that women still haven’t made it (despite the facts) or see political advantage in presenting themselves as the personal champions fighting against the “War on Women.” 

One senator speculates that debating the Paycheck Fairness Act is “part of the re-election campaign for people who are desperate to change the subject from this failed policy known as ObamaCare.”

Unfortunately, staying stuck on the “women face huge obstacles” narrative means we are not dealing with today’s real problem: the declining well-being of men.

It's No Longer ‘A Man’s World’

By most social indicators – education, income, mental health and incarceration – it’s the men who are in trouble.

In education, men graduate from high school with lower GPAs. Men earn 8 percent fewer college degrees, 50 percent fewer master’s degrees and are being overtaken by women in professional and doctoral degrees.

In income, young single men earn less than young single women in 147 of 150 of the largest U.S. cities, leading the study’s author, James Chung, to conclude, "These women haven't just caught up with the guys, in many cities, they're clocking them."

The long-term unemployed are 55 percent men, 45 percent women.

Home ownership rates show single women making up the second biggest block of home buyers after couples, comprising 16 percent of the market, while single men are 9 percent.

Marriage, often a maturing force for men, has declined precipitously among young adults; 55 percent of Americans age 25-29 are unmarried today, compared with only 16 percent unmarried in 1970.

Mental health indicators show four times as many men dying by suicide, and greater numbers are diagnosed with mental health disorders, including substance abuse.

These social changes have occurred with astonishing speed, in barely half a century. Many of the negative developments are most concentrated in younger men, making the near and midterm outlook most troubling.

The causes and cures of male decline are not as simple or soundbite-ready as screaming “paycheck fairness.” But Congress does us all a disservice by staying stuck in the “women are society’s victims” mantra, ignoring the realities of young men floundering and how their decline affects every aspect of American society.

Laura Trueman is director of strategic operations at The Heritage Foundation.