Sen. Ted Cruz tried to link the gender wage gap to Barack Obama’s “big government economy” at Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate. In response to a question from CNBC moderator Becky Quick on his plan to remediate the 23 percent gap in what working men and women earn, Cruz pooh-poohed the efforts of Democrats in Congress to address the issue through legislation.
But he understands the true plight of the working woman, you see—Cruz said his sister and both of his aunts are single mothers, and his own mom raised him alone from the time he was 3, when his father left. “Thank God, my father was invited to a Bible study and became born again and he came back to my mom and me,” Cruz said.
Cruz deflected from the wage gap question to mention that 3.7 million women have entered poverty since Obama took office. That has nothing to do with gender, and little to do with Obama: The U.S. poverty rate for all genders started climbing under George W. Bush, when the recession hit. A year into Obama’s presidency, it leveled off, and has since begun to fall.
Carly Fiorina backed Cruz up on this misleading claim, taking the opportunity to launch an attack on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton: “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women,” Fiorina said. “Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama's first term belonged to women.”
Fiorina’s claim was a recycled bit from Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, which Politifact deemed “mostly false.” The numbers themselves are correct, but the picture Fiorina and Romney tried to paint is patently misleading. Beginning a count of women’s jobs lost on the first day of Obama’s presidency doesn’t provide an accurate image of the recession. In every economic recession, men’s jobs are the first ones lost—in this case, while Bush was still in office. Obama inherited an economy in free fall, and he happened to take on the presidency as the predictable shift of job loss from men to women began.
It’s telling that neither candidate who responded to this question actually put forth any plan to confront the gender wage gap. As the U.S. economy has recovered, men’s wages have bounced back faster than women’s—twice as fast this year. Cruz scorned the laws Democrats have passed to ensure equal pay for equal work; that’s just “empowering trial lawyers to file lawsuits,” he said. Pay rates won’t even out on their own. Without laws that demand it, and yes, lawyers that hold companies to task, equal pay will remain an issue avoided onstage and ignored in office.