Democrats’ equal pay plan turns sour

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— When life gives you lemons, the say­ing goes, make lemon­ade.

And what if life gives Democrats lemon­ade? Well, they’ll tr y to sell it to hur­ry­ing rush- hour com­muters out­side. On a cool morn­ing. In a down­pour.

The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee hatched a clever plan to draw at­ten­tion Tues­day to Equal Pay Day, the an­nual re­minder that women earn only 79 cents on av­er­age for ev­ery dol­lar men earn. They would sell lemon­ade on Capi­tol Hill and charge men $ 1 a cup but women only 79 cents.

But there were a few holes in the busi­ness plan — be­yond the re­al­ity that men and women alike do not typ­i­cally en­joy lemon­ade, at any price, early on a chilly and rainy morn­ing.

The Democrats, fur­ther, did not have a per­mit to sell, which meant they had to give the stuff away for a “sug­gested do­na­tion.” Nor were they aware that they would be com­pet­ing with a char­ity sell­ing Krispy Kreme dough­nuts on the very same spot. They also, ap­par­ently, didn’t have au­tho­riza­tion to set up their stand, which caused the sta­tion man­ager to call the tran­sit po­lice.

Over an hour, the 10 women from the DNC ap­proached a cou­ple thou­sand com­muters at the Capi­tol South Metro sta­tion and “sold” all of 20 cups — per­haps in­ad­ver­tently con­firm­ing the oft- lev­eled charge by Repub­li­cans that Democrats wouldn’t even know how to op­er­ate a lemon­ade stand.

But profit was not the pur­pose of this cit­rus. The Democrats were mak­ing a point. And so, with a Cuban cigar box for a cash reg­is­ter and two plas­tic bot­tles of lemon­ade for prod­uct, they dis­played a hand­col­ored sign: “Lemon­ade. Boys $ 1.00, Girs 79 cents.”

“I for­got the L” in girls, one of the young Democrats ex­plained.

The women re­ceived sev­eral atta­girls from passers- by, a few dis­mis­sive shakes of the head — and a whole lot of puz­zled looks and com­ments. “You reg­is­ter­ing peo­ple to vote?” “I’ll do it on my way back.” “I don’t even work over here.” “I don’t take drinks from strangers.” The course of fair pay never did run smooth.

There is no real dis­pute that women earn less than men — 79 cents in me­dian wages on the dol­lar. The prob­lem has gained new at­ten­tion re­cently with the pub­lic­ity about the U. S. women’s soc­cer team earn­ing less than the men’s team, women on the pro­fes­sional


ten­nis cir­cuit earn­ing less than men, and Hol­ly­wood stars such as Jen­nifer Lawrence earn­ing less than their male coun­ter­parts.

But fix­ing the pay gap is about as easy as sell­ing lemon­ade in a cold rain. Equal- pay laws are dif­fi­cult to en­force. Pay data is of­ten pri­vate, and the bur­den of proof of­ten rests with vic­tims. Women are con­cen­trated in low­er­wage oc­cu­pa­tions, and they take more time out of the work­force for child care.

There are some ideas to re­duce the gap. Paid sick and parental leave would help to off­set the wages women lose as care­givers. And leg­is­la­tion such as the Pay­check Fair­ness Act would make it eas­ier to en­force equal- pay laws, in part by mak­ing it eas­ier to bring cases of wage dis­crim­i­na­tion.

But even a con­sci­en­tious em­ployer would have trou­ble elim­i­nat­ing the gap. The Wash­ing­ton Post found that women in the Obama White House earn 13 per­cent less than men. And the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee re­sponded to the Democrats’ lemon­ade- stand the­atrics by threat­en­ing to set up a ri­val stand sell­ing lemon­ade for 72 cents — the pay gap, ac­cord­ing to one study, faced by women who worked in Hil­lar y Clin­ton’s Se­nate of­fice.

Kate Houghton, the shift leader of the DNC’s lemon­ade stand, wished no fewer than 500 com­muters a “Happy Equal Pay Day.” She and her col­leagues handed out 1,000 “re­ceipts” show­ing a ta­ble of pay dis­par­i­ties and as­sert­ing that the three Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates “don’t sup­port en­sur­ing equal pay for women.” Some com­muters gave a smile, a thumbs- up or a con­tri­bu­tion. The most com­mon re­ply: “No, thank you” — to the lemon­ade, not equal pay.

In the end, not a sin­gle woman ac­cepted her 21- cent dis­count, and sev­eral cus­tomers paid ex­tra, giv­ing the 10 work­ers from the DNC re­ceipts of $ 53.60 to show for their hour’s work, to be given to char­ity.

Pro­ceeds might have ex­ceeded the mid- two- fig­ures if it hadn’t started pour­ing, or if the guy from the Ama­teur Ath­letic Union hadn’t put up a canopy and started sell­ing donuts, or if the sta­tion man­ager hadn’t in­formed the women that they weren’t “autho­rized.”

By the time the po­lice ar­rived, the DNC scofflaws had de­camped to Peet’s Cof­fee for warmer bev­er­ages. Their lemon­ade jug re­mained half full.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@ wash­post. com.

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