Fact-check: Sen. Tammy Duckworth over-hypes specifics of gender pay gap study

The annual Equal Pay Day Coalition study does not separate out white women, and does not examine the same professions nor the qualifications of either gender. The U.S. senator joins a growing number of Democratic politicians who have incorrectly cited the national study of the gender pay gap to include an analysis of men and women in the same job.

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks during a news conference at Ping Tom Park in April.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks during a news conference at Ping Tom Park in April.

Ashlee Rezin /Sun-Times file

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth claims the gender pay gap is bad for white women doing the same job as men, and even worse for “women of color.”

The Illinois Democrat in a recent tweet said it takes 2.5 months longer for white women to earn the same amount of money that men make in the same jobs in a year. She also said the gender pay gap is even worse for Black, Latina, Asian American and Native women.

The well-documented pay gap between men and women has existed ever since women began entering the professional workforce in large numbers, but Duckworth’s claim was very specific to white women in the same job.

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PolitiFact has checked similar claims in the past and there has always been much debate about the specificity of the science behind gender gap claims, so we decided to check.

Asked for the senator’s sources, a Duckworth spokesman said she referred to the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE), the founder of a gender pay gap metric known as Equal Pay Day. He also referred us to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a nonprofit organization advocating equity for women. Both organizations are members of the Equal Pay Day Coalition.

Each year, the coalition uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the date into the next year a woman must work in order to make the same as a man makes the previous year. This year, according to the coalition, that Equal Pay Day was March 15.

“If you look at what all women, not just white women, made in full time jobs year round and compare it to what all men made in the same year, then the (Equal Pay) date marks how much longer women would need to work to catch up to men from the previous year,” said Carolyn York, the NCPE secretary and treasurer.

York said the annual study is to illustrate a general point, and lacks the level of specificity Duckworth — and many others — have attributed to it.

The study does not separate out white women, and does not examine the same professions nor the qualifications of either gender. That means in 2021, it took women overall 14.5 months to earn the same median salary earned by men overall in just 12 months.

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Duckworth is not the first to make the mistake of over-hyping the specifics of Equal Pay Day.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama was rated Mostly False by PolitiFact when he said in 2012 that “women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.” In 2014, his claim was found Mostly True after adjusting it to say that “women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.”

Then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris also received a Mostly False rating when she claimed “women on average are paid 80 cents on the dollar of what men are paid for the same work” during a 2019 appearance on CBS’s “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

So prolific is this mostly false claim, PolitiFact developed its own PolitiFact fact sheet: The Gender Pay Gap. Several factors other than job titles influence the pay gap, including the degrees and jobs women pursue, the time they take off to care for children, the number of hours they work, and years of work experience. Research suggests women are overrepresented in jobs that tend to pay less.

When we informed Duckworth’s office the study does not compare white women to men nor the same jobs, Ben Garmisa, her communications director, gave us the following emailed statement.

“Whether two months and fifteen days or just two days, the point — and the problem — here is that women have to work longer than men to make the same amount of money, and women of color have to work even longer than other women. Senator Duckworth is focused on not just raising awareness of these disparities, but on fixing them.”

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks at the ribbon cutting of the new Chicago Veterans’ Home on the Northwest Side in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks at the ribbon cutting of the new Chicago Veterans’ Home on the Northwest Side in 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

We could find no study that comprehensively breaks down the pay gap by all professions, but some studies have examined specific occupations such as COVID-19 frontline workers.

As for the second half of Duckworth’s claim, which said “women of color” have it worse, here too Duckworth is suggesting an analysis of women in the same jobs as men. Again, the data does not examine professions. Generally, however, the pay gap is worse for all women of color regardless of their jobs.

The Equal Pay Day report says it takes Latina women overall twice as long — an extra 12 months — to match the median annual salary for all white men. Black women have to work an extra nine months, Asian American women an extra five months and Native-American women have to work an extra 11 months.

Rating

Duckworth claimed it takes an extra 2.5 months for white women to earn the same as all men working in the same job. The study to which she refers does not separate white women and does not examine occupations. While it is true the gender pay gap is worse generally for Black, Latina, Native and Asian American women, Duckworth made the same mistaken comparison about occupation.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

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MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check

The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.

Sources:

  • U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, “An extra 2 whole months and 15 days. That’s how long it takes for white women to make the same amount men made in the same job last year. And it’s even worse for women of color.“ March 15, 2022 Tweet
  • Equal Pay Day Calendar, American Association of University Women & Equal Pay Day Today
  • History of Equal Pay Day and current calculation, National Committee on Pay Equity
  • Calculation the gender pay gap, AAUW 2021 Update: Systemic Racism and the Gender
  • Pay Gap — A Supplement to the Simple Truth
  • Women have lost over 5.4 million net jobs and account for 55% of overall net job loss, National Women’s Law Center
  • “Among full-time, year-round workers Black women typically make 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.” July 2021 report, National Women’s Law Center
  • Interviews with Carolyn York, NCPE secretary and treasurer week of March 21, 2022
  • Interview with U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Economist, March 24, 2022
  • PolitiFact Sheet: The Gender Pay Gap
  • What is the pay gap between men and women? - PolitiFact
  • On Colbert, Kamala Harris flubs wage gap statistic - PolitiFact
  • Barack Obama, in State of the Union, says women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns - PolitiFact
  • Barack Obama ad says women are paid “77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men” - PolitiFact
  • Kaine correctly describes Virginia’s pay gap between women and men - PolitiFact
  • Bobby Scott says women earn 80 percent pay of white men for ‘similar’ jobs - PolitiFact
  • Do women get only 80 percent of the pay men do for the same job? - PolitiFact
  • Taking a closer look at Florida Democrat’s claims about the gender pay gap - PolitiFact 

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