"New data reveal pervasive wage gap, women paid less than men in 97 percent of congressional districts."
That was the hand-wringing headline accompanying a study released last week by the National Partnership for Women & Families in the hopes that wage gap hysteria would sweep America - and just in time for the election, no less.
Throughout America, according to the National Partnership, full-time working women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to full-time working men.
To hear the National Partnership tell it, the wage gap is one of the biggest problems facing America and one of the great injustices of our time.
The only problem is that, when factors like hours worked and life choices are considered, the wage gap barely exists - if it exists at all.
When a man and a woman with the same education are doing the same work in the same field, the pay gap is less than 5 percent and, in certain professions, women actually earn more than men.
According to the Department of Labor, the average man working a full-time time job spends 8.14 hours a day on the job, compared to 7.75 hours for the full-time working woman.
Since the National Partnership's study compared full-time male workers to full-time female workers, instead of the average hourly wage earned by men versus the average hourly wage earned by women, the study is flawed to the point of being a joke. If a man works 50 hours per week and a woman in the same job making the same hourly pay works 40 hours per week, she will earn 80 percent of what the man makes - and that only seems fair.
Where the National Partnerships argument really falls apart, however, is when life choices are considered. For example, men tend to choose to major in computer science, mathematics and engineering in higher rates than women. These majors often result in more profitable careers than majors chosen more often by females. The only way to change that is for schools to ban men from certain majors and women from others. Seems a bit extreme, doesn't it?
Women also go in and out of the workforce much more often than men - and usually for a reason that no social scientist or government official can do anything about: to have babies.
If, for instance, a woman leaves the workplace for three years to have and raise a child, when she returns to the workplace, her colleagues' pay will reflect any pay increases earned during those three years. The mother's pay will resume roughly where it was when she left. There's nothing anyone can do to fix that problem, unless the government wants to get in the business of preventing women from starting families.
A few females who aren't suffering from the supposed wage gap are the women behind the organization that put out the study. According to the National Partnership's most recently available nonprofit disclosure forms filed with the IRS, the group's president, Debra L. Ness, raked in a $246,000 salary and another $45,000 in benefits in 2010. Judith L. Lichtman, a former president of the outfit who now serves as its "senior advisor," collects $264,000 in combined salary and benefits.
It seems more than a little disingenuous that two women who snag such extravagant salaries courtesy of their donors are so busy crying wolf about the low pay of women.
In the end, those hefty paychecks seem to be the reason that the people behind the National Partnership continue to spread their fables of female economic woe and oppression.
After all, who would donate to the National Partnership if they told the truth about the state of women in American society? No women in the history of the world have been treated more equally or had as many opportunities as American women in 2012. That narrative, while exciting, encouraging and accurate, doesn't get people to donate. And without those donations, Ness and Lichtman aren't pulling in more than a quarter million dollars a year.
So even though the gender wage gap is a myth, the National Partnership and other women's groups continue to take numbers out of context and toss logic aside in order to keep the cash rolling in.
Certainly, there are disadvantages to being a woman. And there is a place for special interest groups, think tanks and grassroots activism to ensure that women are empowered with every right and opportunity afforded men. Let's just hope that, in the future, these organizations focus their efforts on addressing real problems, rather than inventing - and promoting - pretend ones.