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Sunday, December 11, 2016

What’s Best for Women? Property Rights, Innovation, and Economic Growth

Let’s look at a few reasons why big government isn’t necessarily best for women.

Women’s advocacy groups say Donald J. Trump’s cabinet will be one of the most hostile in recent memory to so-called women’s issues, the New York Times is reporting.

But this assumes that all women should support bigger government. In truth, there are many reasons women might not want a higher minimum wage or expanded Medicare and Medicaid. Yes, women make up two-thirds of minimum-wage workers and disproportionately depend on Medicare and Medicaid. But perhaps one reason so many women voted for Donald Trump despite his blatantly misogynistic comments and campaign, much to everyone’s surprise, was that women would rather grow our way out of poverty than depend on poorly funded entitlement programs that eat up 30% of our first dollar earned.

Let’s look at a few reasons why big government isn’t necessarily best for women.

Minimum Wage

A grand total of 3.9% of all hourly workers earned the prevailing federal minimum wage or less in 2014. The New York Times reports that women make up two-thirds of minimum-wage workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 5% of hourly women versus 3% of men earned the minimum wage.

Why might women oppose raising the minimum wage? Perhaps we would rather have the option of a low-paying job than none at all.Why might women oppose raising the minimum wage? Perhaps we’d rather have the option of a low-paying job than none at all. Despite what people tell you, there’s good evidence on both sides of the debate showing how raising the minimum wage impacts employment. However, it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to see a higher minimum wage doesn’t automatically or immediately make a business more profitable. Without any more profit, a business forced to raise wages will have to let employees go or forego to hire more employees.

My friend (and fellow woman) Jacqueline Silseth summed up her thoughts on the minimum wage rather succinctly: “You can’t pay someone more than the value they create or you go out of business.”

BLS stats put half of minimum wage workers at younger than 25, i.e. just getting started in their careers. Most were working part-time, many while in school. Most were unmarried.

Women oppose the minimum wage because they value the opportunity low-wage jobs afford them to learn skills, gain experience, and eventually move up in their careers.

Equal Pay Legislation

The first problem with trying to fight pay discrimination with legislation is that straightforward pay discrimination isn’t, like, actually a thing anymore. When you correct for factors including hours worked, years of experience, occupation, and college major, the gender pay gap nearly disappears to less than 5%.

Which isn’t to say the gender pay gap is a myth, as many dishonestly claim. The average woman does make $.77 to the average man’s dollar. But the way to fight that difference is at the cultural level. It means teaching that childcare, domestic work, and eldercare are men’s work as well as women’s work. Closing the gender pay gap requires women to consider their careers as important as men’s. It requires managers to stop promoting their male employees before their female ones because they expect them to get pregnant and quit.

And these things are already happening. Childless women in cities already out-earn their male counterparts. It’s also true that today women are disproportionately impoverished and depend more on entitlement and aid programs. But by 2020, the average woman will out-earn the average man.

When it comes to pay and employment, it’s actually men, not women, who we need to be worried about. The move from a manufacturing economy to one based on information and services hasn’t been kind to the average male worker. Since the 1970s, male employment has steadily declined, while women’s has risen. And while women are making more money than ever, male wages have stagnated. Personally, one reason I oppose pay discrimination legislation is that I’ll be darned if some government bureaucrat tells my boss to pay me less because the man next to me can’t keep up.

Medicare and Medicaid

Since when is opposing reform a feminist act?Since when is opposing reform a feminist act? President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Representative Tom Price, R-GA, to lead the Health and Human Services department. I’ve dug into Price’s proposals for market-based reforms for Medicare and Medicaid and I’m not at all convinced partial privatization will be a bad deal for women.

Actually, one part of it is pretty straightforwardly pro-woman. Price wants to replace Medicare’s fee-for-service model with premium subsidies for private insurance. The subsidies would be age-based instead of income-based. Since women on average live longer than men, this is a nakedly pro-woman move.


It’s really kind of a stretch to claim, as the New York Times does, that a higher minimum wage and Medicare and Medicaid are women’s issues. Tax credits for child care and paid maternity leave are more straightforwardly gendered policies, and, ironically, Donald Trump has been supportive of both. I disagree with the President-elect on both policies. I’d rather not have the government meddle in whether I have kids and how I care for them. But if meddling must happen, parental leave is a much better idea.

It pains me to see people claim that big government is best for women. In reality, women and men are both helped most by a government that gets out of our way.

  • Cathy Reisenwitz is a D.C.-based writer. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.