"Now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work," Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said August 28 in his convention acceptance speech. He told the crowd in Denver: "I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons."
Obama’s campaign website is even more specific. Under the heading "Fighting for Pay Equity," the women’s issues page laments that, "Despite decades of progress, women still make only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. A recent study estimates it will take another 47 years for women to close the wage gap with men at Fortune 500 corporate offices. Barack Obama believes the government needs to take steps to better enforce the Equal Pay Act…"
Obama’s commitment to federally mandated pay equity stretches from the Rockies to Wall Street and beyond. And yet it seems to have eluded his United States Senate office. Compensation figures for his legislative staff reveal that Obama pays women just 83 cents for every dollar his men make.
A watchdog group called LegiStorm posts online the salaries for Capitol Hill staffers. "We have no political affiliations and no political purpose except to make the workings of Congress as transparent as possible," its website explains. Parsing LegiStorm’s official data, gleaned from the Secretary of the Senate, offers a fascinating glimpse at pay equity in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.
The most recent statistics are for the half-year from October 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008, excluding interns and focusing on full-time personnel. For someone who worked only until, say, last February 29, extrapolating up to six months’ service simplifies this analysis. Doubling these half-year figures illustrates how a year’s worth of Senate employees’ paychecks should look.
Based on these calculations, Obama’s 28 male staffers divided among themselves total payroll expenditures of $1,523,120. Thus, Obama’s average male employee earned $54,397.
Obama’s 30 female employees split $1,354,580 among themselves, or $45,152, on average.
Why this disparity? One reason may be the under-representation of women in Obama’s highest-compensated ranks. Among Obama’s five best-paid advisors, only one was a woman. Among his top 20, seven were women.
Again, on average, Obama’s female staffers earn just 83 cents for every dollar his male staffers make. This figure certainly exceeds the 77-cent threshold that Obama’s campaign website condemns. However, 83 cents do not equal $1.00. In spite of this 17-cent gap between Obama’s rhetoric and reality, he chose to chide GOP presidential contender John McCain on this issue.
Obama responded August 31 to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s Republican vice-presidential nomination. Palin "seems like a very engaging person," Obama told voters in Toledo, Ohio. "But I’ve got to say, she’s opposed — like John McCain is — to equal pay for equal work. That doesn’t make much sense to me."
Obama’s criticism notwithstanding, McCain’s payment patterns are the stuff of feminist dreams.
McCain’s 17 male staffers split $916,914, thus averaging $53,936. His 25 female employees divided $1,396,958 and averaged $55,878.
On average, according to these data, women in John McCain’s office make $1.04 for every dollar a man makes. In fact, all other things being equal, a typical female staffer could earn 21 cents more per dollar paid to her male counterpart — while adding $10,726 to her annual income — by leaving Barack Obama’s office and going to work for John McCain.
How could this be?
One explanation could be that women compose a majority of McCain’s highest-paid aides. Among his top-five best-compensated staffers, three are women. Of his 20-highest-salaried employees, 13 are women. The Republican presidential nominee relies on women — much more than men — for advice at the highest, and thus, best-paid levels.
If anyone on McCain’s Senate staff is unhappy, McCain’s male staffers might complain that they seem to get a slightly raw deal.
In short, these statistics suggest that John McCain is more than fair with his female employees, while Barack Obama — at the expense of the women who work for him — quietly perpetuates the very same pay-equity divide that he loudly denounces. Of all people, the Democratic standard bearer should understand that equal pay begins at home.
(Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)gmail.com)