Mind the Gap
Why women need the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Sommers' straw man is that the Paycheck Fairness Act will hold employers' feet to the fire for "the lingering effects of past discrimination," leading to an avalanche of lawsuits against well-intentioned and innocent employers. Sen. Collins, too, said she is concerned about imposing "excessive litigation on to the small-business community." Sommers imagines the law taking a monkey wrench to the market—suddenly suspect would be the higher pay universities give business school professors compared with social-work professors. That's an example that may make sense to readers. Surely universities shouldn't be forced to artificially inflate the salaries at social-work school. But it strains credulity to imagine that the law would have this attenuated effect. If businesses are worried about more litigation, maybe that's because women armed with knowledge about pay gaps would be more likely to bring suits that have merit to enforce the laws that already exist.
And in fact, supply and demand often fails—oddly, in ways that lower women's wages. For example, there's a significant nursing crisis in this country. We do not have enough of them, and not enough young people are entering the field. Yet, nurses are paid well and many people would like to join the field. So what's the problem? Last year, nursing schools turned away 55,000 qualified applicants because they cannot recruit enough well-trained professors to teach them. As it turns out, nursing professors earn less on average, than nurses who nurse. Nursing schools need to pay their faculties more not because of the comparison with business schools, but because that's what the market demands. It seems that Sommers' argument is that markets function for business school professors, but not nursing school professors. Give me a break.
Sommers' core dismissal of the Paycheck Fairness Act is that it's a throwback to "1970s-style gender-war feminism." But that's just a thinly veiled effort to make a needed shoring up of our anti-discrimination protections sound radical. Women can see through it.
Photograph of Susan Collins by Karen Bleiler/AFP/Getty Images.