One of the big partisan battles waging in America currently is the Democrats’ push for gender equality in pay. Regardless of where you come down on the issue of the government dictating pay practices, you should find quite interesting a recent grenade lobbed by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who is one of the Senate’s most liberal Democrats.
In a Senate debate April 8 on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199), Harkin noted that truck drivers – a job that is about 95% male – earn median weekly wages of $730 while childcare workers, a job that is about 93% female, earn $390. Perhaps you are thinking – as you certainly should – that this comparison is meaningless, but Harkin had an answer for this.
“Why do we value someone who moves products more than we value someone who looks after the safety and well-being of our children?” Harkin was quick to add that he wasn’t suggesting that truck drivers were overpaid. “I am just saying that jobs we consider ‘women’s work’ are often underpaid, even though they are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.”
Seriously? Harkin’s a smart politician, so picking a job that cares for children – the most sacrosanct class of human beings – shields him against arguments that perhaps the required skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions of being a typical truck driver might just be a tad more demanding than those of a typical childcare worker. Nobody would dare argue otherwise, right? Wrong.
Is changing a diaper really tougher than backing a tractor-trailer into a dock? And responsibility? Regrettably, we have all seen the tragic consequences of mistakes truck drivers sometimes make. As for working conditions, consider the difference between struggling with congested interstates and sleeping in berths in crowded truck stops on the one hand and working in a childcare facility or private home and returning home each night on the other.
And effort? Assume a typical childcare worker works 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week, which seems like a very generous maximum. That’s 55 hours, significantly less than a typical long-haul truck driver. Harkin seemed to overlook the little matter of the amount of time worked.
Perhaps realizing that the childcare worker comparison would go only so far, Harkin shifted the focus to a different job. “Quite frankly, some of the jobs women do, such as nursing or home health aides, require a lot more physical effort than being a truck driver,” Harkin said in the debate over S. 2199. “Maybe in the old days truck drivers had to be strong to muscle those trucks around. Now everybody has power steering and power brakes and everything else. A person doesn’t have to be some big, heavy-weight giant to drive trucks anymore.” Nursing aides, on the other hand, need to move people who might weigh 250 pounds or more and execute other tasks that take considerable effort, Harkin said. “So why are nursing and home health aides paid so much less than truck drivers?”
Harkin will be retiring from Congress at the end of the year. If the 74-year-old lawmaker thinks driving a truck is so easy, perhaps he should get his commercial driver’s license and hit the road.