Recently, the National Journal analyzed salary data to learn about gender and pay in Washington. Not what laws are being written to affect regular Americans, but the pay gap on the Hill, between male and female staffers. And while the results arenít perfect, theyíre at least better than the rest of the country.
In the House, on average, female staffers made $5,862.56 less than men, or 90 cents on the dollar — a significant improvement over the national average of 77 cents on the dollar. In the Senate, the difference was $7,277.69, or 89 cents on the dollar. The interesting part, though, was when the Journal compared the salary differences by party. For Republican House staffers, the pay gap was $10,098.09, or 84 cents on the dollar, while for Democrats it was only $1,473.65, or or 97 cents on the dollar. In the Senate, the story was similar: female Republicans make $9,805.85 less than men (86 cents on the dollar) while female Democrats make $4,916.46 less (92 cents on the dollar).
In fairness to the Republicans, however, the studyís authors note that the reason for the pay gap is probably not pay discrimination as much as hiring discrimination. Standardized titles for staffers donít exist, making it hard to know which positions are equivocal, and they sometimes change jobs without updating the official record, which makes it difficult to control for staffer position. Therefore, the National Journalís analysis looked at staffers as one equivocal group, not separated hierarchically, meaning that most if not all of the pay disparities can be explained by the fact that women tend not to be in higher-level, higher-paying positions. In fact, the National Journal reports elsewhere that when positions are controlled for, men and women are paid almost the same (though that data is not differentiated by party).
This is both good and bad news. First, itís great news that when men and women have the same positions, they get almost the same amount of money. With the recent failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act, not all women are that lucky. At the same time, though, we have to ask why women arenít moving into higher staffing positions, especially when working for Republicans (though considering the ongoing War On Women, thatís understandable). In addition, the abysmal number of women in Congress (about 15%) puts the staffing problem into context. Staffing is an important way for aspiring politicians to learn the ins and outs of Washington, as well as to make connections on the Hill. If there are fewer women in high-level staffing positions, it will be harder for women to succeed later on. Thatís the problem with interconnected gender issues — if fixing one is difficult, it makes fixing the others that much harder.
Of course, the next question is always: how do we fix this? And here, there are no easy answers. The data shows a fairly steady climb upwards for womenís representation in Congress (though this year dipped just below last), and I would guess that women legislators wonít discriminate against women staffers. Awareness could also help: if congresspeople know the statistics, they might make a greater effort when hiring to be nonbiased. And, of course, itís always important to get more, and more talented, women into the system, both as staffers and congresspeople. This starts at a very young age, and it is our job to convince every little girl who dreams of being the president that she actually can be. Hopefully, if we work hard, we will eventually achieve equality for all, and no family will have to suffer because their breadwinner just happened to be female.
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