Study examines wage gap; findings disputed

Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The average woman working on U.S. government contract jobs is paid 72 cents for every dollar a man earns, 82 cents if she has the same position and 89 cents if she has equal tenure and experience at the same company, a disputed Labor Department survey of federal contractors found.

The draft study was released Tuesday by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and quickly got tangled in politics. The Labor Department said the report, commissioned by Harkin, has not been issued officially because of accuracy questions that arose during the Clinton administration.

''The methodology and the data that was used in the study was severely flawed,'' said Stuart Roy, spokesman for Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Another study is being prepared, he said.

''I am concerned that fruitful conversations about the status of women in the workplace will be misguided by this flawed study,'' Chao said in a statement.

Harkin released the draft study to mark Equal Pay Day, the theoretical point in the year when women's pay catches up to men's salaries from the year before.

''Anybody in this day and age who doesn't believe that there is a wage gap based on occupational segregation has his or her head stuck in the sand,'' Harkin said.

The senator asked the Labor Department almost two years ago to examine federal contractors' wage data and pay gaps. The study was completed in January before President Bush took office, and Harkin has pressed unsuccessfully for its official release.

''The fact is, this administration does not want to release the report because it damages their case,'' Harkin said.

According to Harkin's draft, the pay gap is 28 cents for the average woman working for companies with federal contracts. It is 18 cents when she has the same position a male worker and 11 cents when she has the same race, experience and tenure at the same company as a man.

The pay gap is caused by discrimination and because women get steered into lower-paying occupations, the study said. About half of working women are in occupations that are at least 70 percent female and that typically pay lower wages, it said.

''I urge the new administration to release this report,'' Harkin said. ''And I urge them to read it, and to take its findings to heart, and to do something about it. This is far too significant to just sweep under the rug.''

The study was based on analyses by the National Urban League of a 1999 survey of 4,835 federal contractors out of about 100,000 that do business with the federal government. It also included data from population surveys in 1979, 1989 and 1999, and Equal Employment Opportunity reports from 1975-1998.

But according to a Jan. 16 memo obtained by The Associated Press that cited problems found by the Clinton administration Office of Management and Budget, the reports ''do little to improve our understanding of the gender wage gap. They have some serious errors that could lead to false conclusion.''

Economist Nancy Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum, said women often choose to take jobs that pay less for flexibility and time for children and family, she said. Analysis by her group shows that women want to have more control over how they live their lives.

''Women make decisions all the time based on things other than salary -- enjoyment of the job and ability to have time with their families,'' she said.

Her group supports policies that allow women to have flexibility in their jobs through compensatory time or flex time.

Democrats and women's groups continue to push for Congress to strengthen the Equity Pay Act, which requires employers to pay equal wages for equal work. They also want better enforcement of current laws and more job training for women.

Harkin again is proposing a Fair Pay Act, which would require employers to pay workers based on skills, effort, responsibility and effort, ''regardless if the job is considered so-called women's work,'' he said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said it was ironic that Equal Pay Day falls a week after the Bush administration closed the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach.

''Bush's message to women seems to be, we don't care about your issues,'' he said.

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