Reason Roundup

Biden's Plans To Fix the Pay Gap Won't Actually Help Women

Plus: A win for animal rights activists in Iowa, Republicans sue the CDC over air travel mask mandate, and more...


Yesterday was "Equal Pay Day," so named to mark the point in the year that a U.S. woman allegedly must work to make the same amount of money as her male counterparts made in the preceding single year. As has become tradition, Democratic leaders marked the occasion with big talk and little substance.

Their big idea was restricting the use of salary history in hiring. President Joe Biden released an executive order instructing the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to "consider" implementing rules that "limit or prohibit Federal contractors and subcontractors from seeking and considering information about job applicants' and employees' existing or past compensation when making employment decisions." Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would "begin work to address the use of salary history in the hiring and pay-setting process for federal employees."

Careful observers may notice that nothing concrete is actually being done; the big announcements amounted to plans to "consider" or "begin work to address." But the amusingly toothless nature of these announcements is actually a good thing, since an actual ban on salary history disclosure (even just among federal workers and contractors) would be pretty silly.

The idea that salary history disclosures harm women has become commonplace—the thinking being that if women are financially disadvantaged at their first jobs then their salary history will suggest they can be paid lower wages at their next job and so on, creating a vicious cycle of lower pay from which women can never emerge.

Several states have already passed laws to ban salary history discussions during the hiring process. But evidence that this actually helps women is mixed. Meanwhile, such restrictions would have unintended consequences.

"For example, employers who can't ask about prior salary might assume that a female candidate would accept less money than a man, because women make less on average," as The New York Times has previously noted. In this scenario, a ban on salary history discussions could lead to women getting lowballed in job offers.

Salary history bans could also cost people—particularly women and younger workers—some job offers. It's not hard to imagine an employer choosing to hire someone whose salary requirements seem slightly lower than an equally qualified candidate with higher requirements. In this case, prior salary disclosure could mean the difference between getting a job or not.

In other cases, where an employer has a strong preference for a particular candidate, the company may be prepared to offer a higher salary than the baseline in order to recruit them. Without knowing the candidate's salary history, however, the employer may be lost as to what to offer. They might offer lower than the candidate currently makes, leading the candidate to reject the job that could have otherwise been a good fit.

Which is all to say that surely some women may actually benefit from past salary disclosure—especially now that young women are out-earning their male counterparts.

In general, letting employers and prospective employees exchange more information, not less, seems likely to lead to the best matches and the most satisfaction.

The Biden administration's enthusiasm for limiting prior salary disclosure jives with the general cluelessness (or deliberate misrepresentation) by politicians and activists on the issue of equal pay.

The feminist campaign for "equal pay for equal work" was once quite justified; women frequently faced lower pay than men for performing the same jobs. But outright pay differentials based on sex have long been illegal, and the pay gap between women and men in the same positions is now quite small. A 2016 study of wage data in 33 countries including the U.S. found that men made 1.6 percent more on average than women doing the same work.

Today's rhetoric about wider disparities in male and female incomes tends to 1) rely on research looking at incomes across professions and positions and 2) ignore explanations other than discrimination that might explain pay disparities—things like gender differences in types of work, work schedules, and years in the workforce. Politicians and media then use this distorted picture to spawn outrage and get kudos for addressing the issue, even if nothing they're doing can actually "fix" the complicated causes behind disparities.

There may be a broader discussion to have about whether female-heavy industries are undervalued or how choosing to have children may harm women's salary prospects more than men's. But the issue is nowhere near the simplistic narrative that many modern progressives often make it out to be, in which sexist bosses and companies simply choose to pay women less than men for the same work and everything can be fixed with federal mandates.


"Ag gag" law unconstitutional. A federal court has ruled against an Iowa law that makes it a crime to obtain "access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses." The decision by U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose blocks enforcement of the law on First Amendment grounds. "The case had been on hold while the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a challenge to an earlier version of the law," notes the Des Moines Register:

In partially upholding the first law, the 8th Circuit found that false speech is not protected by the First Amendment if it enables a trespass. Under that standard, Rose ruled Monday, the second law still doesn't pass constitutional muster.

By criminalizing deception to gain access to an agricultural facility "with the intent to cause physical or economic harm," it impermissibly distinguishes between animal rights activists and others who might lie to gain access to facilities for other reasons, Rose ruled.

"Simply because speech is unprotected does not grant a free license for the government to regulate that speech based on viewpoint," she wrote, finding that "the law seeks to single out specific individuals for punishment based on their viewpoint regarding such facilities."


Massie sues the CDC. Congressional Republicans led by Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie are suing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end mask requirements on airplanes. Massie is joined in the lawsuit—filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kentucky—by 16 other GOP members of Congress, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), and Andy Biggs (Ariz.). You can find their full complaint here.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the legal authority to force people traveling on commercial airlines to wear masks," said Massie in a statement. "Congress never passed a law requiring masks on commercial flights. This lawsuit targets the faceless bureaucrats who are behind the CDC's unscientific regulation so that this illegal mask mandate can be brought to a permanent end."


• President Joe Biden has signed a massive $1.5 trillion government funding bill that includes $13.6 billion in assistance to Ukraine.

• The U.S. Senate unanimously voted to make Daylight Savings Time permanent.

• Idaho's bill banning abortion around six weeks and allowing family members of pregnant women who get abortions to sue is headed to the state's governor.

• Pfizer is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a second COVID-19 vaccine booster for people ages 65 and up.

• An interesting mice study looks at the effect of body temperature on longevity.

• The Human Rights Defense Center is suing over the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services' policy of forbidding books to be mailed to inmates unless they come from one specific book wholesaler.

• Former Los Angeles police officer Cheryl Dorsey on why the state should repeal its loitering for prostitution purposes law.

• Russia's invasion of Ukraine complicates the democracies versus autocracies narrative, writes Daniel R. DePetris at Newsweek.

• How an academic grudge turned into a #MeToo panic.

• Ignoring the EARN IT's Fourth Amendment problem won't make it go away.

• New York may not make to-go cocktails permanent after all.

• Idaho hair braiders are suing over occupational licensing requirements.

• Maryland moves to end college degree requirements for many state jobs: