Pay attention to pay

This week began with a flurry of talk about how much professors and college administrators are paid. Last week’s Oswegonian included a prominent article, the cover story, in fact, that included facts about payments for campus workers, some examples of staff salaries and analysis by economists who teach on campus. What the article did not include was an explanation about why this knowledge is important and worthy of attention from you, the reader. We will set out to elucidate these details.

Firstly, the pay information of state workers is public information. But why, when people treat this individual datum about themselves with a fierce degree of privacy? Because public workers are paid out of public coffers. Whatever else in life one may be certain about, one ought to add this to that list: the records of disbursement of the pooled funds must always be subject to audit of anyone contributing to the pool. In the case of dollars taken though tax via the government’s monopoly on the use of force, the certainty of the taxpayer that their money is being well spent will always be paramount. This certainty requires information, and part of that information is labor costs of the government.

Our search of public records and presentation through the public through our newspaper stated no opinion about whether the salaries presented were too high or too low. What it did was present the issue, allow readers to absorb the facts as they are and to form an opinion for themselves. In the case of the general reader, their taxes contribute to the payments made to public employees. In the case of the general student this goes doubly; both their taxes and tuition are diverted into these payments.

For the students studying to be become educators, it goes triply. Not only are they, as the rest of us, to be concerned about the efficacy of their tax and tuition, for them these payments are the future. How could any school, such as our own, with a strong and storied history of teaching America’s teachers recoil at something so basic and necessary as informing the next generation of educators about their value in the labor market? It would be an abominable shame to graduate a student from the school of education who was unsure about how quickly he could expect to repay his or her loans. Or how soon they could afford a home in their school district.

And yet, some were unnerved by our publication of this public data. That response is understandable. In one class conversation about the article, a professor remarked that information about people’s income that it was, “more intimate than their sex lives. You’ll talk about sexual exploits before you talk about income.”

However, the professor, lecturing on economics, continued by adding that the culture of secrecy engendered around matters of salary allows employees to be paid less than what they would otherwise command.

“Will employers use that to get a good worker at a lower wage?” he asked, rhetorically. “Absolutely,” he answered.

This point is probably most prescient. In economics, perfect competition, and thus the best most equal distribution of welfare between workers and employers, is only possible when each party is equally and adequately informed about the transactions they make. While this may not yet be the standard in the private sector, in the public sector, where we are invited to entertain the whims of our highest ideals and thereby reach higher it is both possible and reasonable. We ought to dream of a future where no one is underpaid for any significant length of time because information about the value of labor is freely available if only we ask, or search. Indeed, the value of each person’s labor is the only inherent market value one has, barring the value of his or her organs. Why allow this personal value to be unnecessarily eroded by something so treatable as asymmetrical information.

An example of where such a culture of openness could have helped is in the case of Lily Ledbetter. Ledbetter was, for most of her career, paid less by Goodyear for the same work of men who were paid more. But because the culture of secrecy around salaries, she only discovered this sad fact much later. When she filed suit, but her initial suit was dismissed because she did not file her complaint within 180 days of when this pay disparity started. The sole reason she missed the deadline: asymmetrical information. (Congress thankfully rectified this grave error with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which states that the filing deadline resets with the issuance of every new discriminatory paycheck). We cannot give lip service to Ledbetter’s laudable progressivism and with the same mouth perpetuate the silence that is the seed of her discontent.

In closing, here is a story. A boy growing up in a Catholic school was told that his most admired teacher, a priest, had taken a vow of poverty. This confused the boy, who always saw father rushing around doing important school business. He approached father one day after mass and asked, “Father, why would you do so much work if you are paid so little.”

Father looked the squarely at the boy. “Because, my son, what you are paid is not what you are worth.”

 

One thought on “Pay attention to pay

  1. If we all could get paid what WE think we’re worth, we’d all be millionaires.

    Re: “Ledbetter Fair Pay Act”

    No legislation to date has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act…. Nor will a “paycheck fairness” law work.

    That’s because pay-equity advocates, at no small cost to taxpayers and the economy, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women’s equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at http://tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at http://tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed more women are staying at home, perhaps it’s because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they’re going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they’re supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home.

    Both feminists and the media ignore what this obviously implies: If millions of wives are able to accept no wages and live as well as their husbands, millions of other wives are able to accept low wages, refuse overtime and promotions, work part-time instead of full-time (“According to a 2009 UK study for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 percent of the 4,690 women surveyed wanted to work full time.” http://bit.ly/ihc0tl), take more unpaid days off, avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (http://tinyurl.com/45ecy7p) — all of which lower women’s average pay. Women are able to make these choices because they are supported or anticipate being supported by a husband who must earn more than if he’d chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike women, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

    See “A Response to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” at http://tinyurl.com/pvbrcu

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