Friday, June 22, 2012

PolitiFlub: PolitiFact math on equal pay for women (Updated)

President Obama's re-election campaign alerts us that women receive only 77 cents on the dollar for performing the same work as men.

No worries.  PolitiFact is on the case:
The 77 cent figure has become a rallying cry for those who seek to eliminate employment discrimination based on gender. And it’s a genuine statistic.
I already know it's a genuine statistic.  It is, for example, the amount of money one should expect as change when using $1 to buy a 33 cent item.  It is probably not at all a genuine statistic in the context of equal pay for equal work, however.

PolitiFact explains, notwithstanding its own muddying of the waters:
In a report released in September 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau wrote that in 2010, the female-to-male earnings ratio of full-time, year-round workers was 0.77." Translated into dollars, that means that in 2010, women working full-time earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men working full time.
And that's for the same work that men do?  No, of course it isn't.  Consequently, PolitiFact's explanatory paragraph is about as relevant as mine explaining how much change one should expect after using $1 to pay for a 33 cent item.  It's not relevant, and one would hope that a campaign supporting a candidate who presumes to address the problem would know which stats are relevant and which are not.

Probably the campaign knew the stat was misused but did it anyway to improve the impact of the ad.  The error's just too obvious.

Speaking for myself, the right approach to this fact check involves trying to estimate the real difference between pay for men and women doing the same work and confirming whether the Obama campaign landed anywhere near the ballpark.  PolitiFact chose instead to explore the ins and outs of the 77 cent statistic, in the end admitting that it serves as the wrong vehicle for the ad's claim about men and women receiving different pay for the same work.

PolitiFact's approach yielded the following conclusion:
The Obama campaign took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it actually is. The 77-cent figure is real, but it does not factor in occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure. Describing that statistic as referring to the pay for women "doing the same work as men" earns it a rating of Mostly False.
That's just PolitiFact spin.

The Obama campaign made a claim about disparate pay for men and women doing the same work and tried to support it with a statistic that doesn't take into account the type of work done.  That's a flatly wrong approach, perhaps even "pants on fire" if one believes in applying subjective judgments to rulings on matters of fact.

PolitiFact's conclusion suggests that the Obama campaign was trying oh-so-hard to simply convey that men and women are paid differently irrespective of the jobs they do and (oopsie!) just happened to get a little mixed up in the delivery.  There's one way to keep the statistic from earning a "False" rating or worse:  Find out the real number and determine whether the 77 cent figure is somewhat close.

Nothing else will do.

Update: tried to do the fact check the right way.

The conclusion:
But the president was flatly wrong to say that women are paid 77 percent of the pay of men for the “same work.” And the fact that women’s median annual earnings are 77 percent of men’s isn’t all or even mostly due to discrimination, as the ad implies.
"Mostly False" gives the Obama campaign considerable benefit of the doubt.

1 comment:

  1. Oddly enough, PolitiFact didn't have enough space to mention the pay gap that exists in Democratic Senators offices:


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