Should more be done by the government to address unequal pay for women?
In a time when discrimination and wage disparity are both heavily debated, the question arises of whether the government should be more actively involved in bridging the gender pay gap
Rise of the Issue
Recurrent debates in Congress and across the electorate challenge whether the government’s enforcement of equal pay initiatives ease economic disparities, or just intrude improperly into private enterprise and other liberties.
The issue of the gender pay gap first arose with the Second World War, when women flocked to factories and other workplaces filling roles emptied by men leaving for service. Women workers proved themselves as capable as their male counterparts, but were paid substantially less than similarly-situated males, even when offering the same experience levels and work products. Since then, many legislations have passed to bridge the gender pay gap, amongst other types of wage disparities, although on average women still earn less than their male counterparts today. The Census Bureau reported that, as of the last available data in 2020, women earned 83 cents for every dollar paid to similarly-situated males.
And while most Americans support pay equity efforts, there are diverging opinions on how this should be remedied, and especially, how involved the government should be in combating wage disparity.
Wyoming Becomes First State Allowing Women Voters
Wyoming Territory enacted a women’s suffrage law in 1869, and conditioned its Statehood on Wyoming women keeping the right to vote.
19th Amendment Guarantees All Women’s Voting Rights
The Constitutional amendment opens electoral polls to women in all States.
Second World War Injects Women into Workforce
As men entered extended military service, women assumed factory and other workplace roles critical to successful war production.
Congress Addresses Discrimination in Employment and Pay
The Equal Pay Act amends 1938’s Fair Labor Standards Act to forbid unequal pay for comparable work, while Title VII of 1964’s Civil Rights Act forbids sex-based discrimination in workplaces.
Supreme Court Recognizes Discriminatorily Hostile Work Environments
A unified Court finds Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows "hostile workplace environment" sexual harassment claims, including for non-economic harms.
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act Passes
Addressing a split Supreme Court opinion, Congress expands filing deadlines for pay discrimination cases and facilitates claims for unequal pay.
Rights to Contract
Private business interests object that these laws interfere with both employer and employee contract rights. Supporters favor government regulation to level unfair negotiation positions, resources, and tactics.
Costs to Taxpayers
Opponents point to government enforcement expenses as unwarranted spending, while proponents say expenses are a necessary part of remedying the nation’s history of wage discrimination.
Opponents say that employment laws encourage governments to exceed constitutionally-limited powers, when business self-policing usually suffices. Supporters allege that only government executors can protect employee liberties from businesses’ profit motives.
Government enforcement ensures that businesses respect employee rights.
Businesses have a fiduciary duty of profit to owners and shareholders that does not contemplate, and sometimes directly conflicts with, equity goals. Because businesses cannot shirk fiduciary obligations, government inspectors stand better positioned to protect employment rights.
Regulations against wage disparity help to level uneven bargaining powers between employee and employer.
Those hiring usually control more resources than those asking to be hired, not least controlling access to the job itself. Limits on wage disparities allow employees a minimum negotiating position.
Wage protections help to remedy prior sex discrimination.
Women were traditionally forbidden from workplaces, and have been paid less than male counterparts doing similar work since entering the workforce. This wage gap, one facet of historical discrimination against women, is closing with legislative mandates and government oversight.
Assurances that similar work earns similar pay improves employee morale, and strengthens business performance.
Employees assured fair compensation for similar work perform better than their less compensated counterparts. That improved employee performance often translates into improved business performance.
Wage fairness elevates traditionally underpaid minority communities, relieving poverty and other economic disparities.
Minority communities, traditionally relegated to lower-paying professions and pay scales, received improved pay after wage equality efforts. This is especially important for minority women, who are disproportionately harmed by economic inequality.
Government interference impedes natural and corporate persons’ rights to contracts.
Free enterprise entails employers and employees freely negotiating risks and rewards without governments limiting considerations. Wage fairness laws limit the rights that parties have to bargain, and to contract to others.
Wage laws intrude into protected commercial and other associations.
The First Amendment protects persons’ rights to free association, both whom and how one may associate. Forcing employers to meet financial minimums reduces the rights enjoyed in these associations.
Workplace regulations chill free speech.
Citizens United established the principle that money is speech. Forcing wage and workplace conduct forces people to comply with government-mandated speech.
Wage discrimination laws impact otherwise market-controlled employee costs.
“Fair wage” requirements drive up costs for some employers. These added labor costs reduce the private enterprise’s profitability.
Equal pay record-keeping adds to operational costs and burden.
Forcing businesses to engage in wage fairness activities and keep records about them drives production costs up, hurting growth and profitability.