The reasons for the pay gap between men and women are not particularly new, writes Linda Nazareth in the Globe and Mail.

By Linda Nazareth, March. 1, 2018

Please, at least let's start by using the right numbers. Of course there is a pay gap between men and women in Canada, but let's not make it worse than it is.When you play with the statistics on male-female earnings, you lose your credibility and then who knows what else some of us are going to question.

Case in point: In the 2018 budget speech, Finance Minister Bill Morneau earnestly says that women make just 69 cents for every dollar earned by men on an annual basis. It is a shocker of a statistic, the same one that sometimes has people asserting that it is as if women start working for free at 2:40 in the afternoon while men keep getting paid all day. Trouble is, it simply is not true.

Comparing the earnings of men and women on an annual basis is a red herring given that women tend to work fewer hours than men. According to a 2017 study by Statistics Canada, when you look at hourly earnings of men and women, you see that women earn 87 cents for every dollar that men earn. That is still a gap and that's not okay, but it is a lot less than the one Mr. Morneau is talking about.

Next, let's look at why that gap exists and whether any of the policies put forth in the federal budget are likely to make a dent in it.

The reasons for the pay gap between men and women are not particularly new. Women tend to be clustered in fields that traditionally pay less than the ones that men choose, and in occupations that pay less as well. They are also a lot more likely than men to take "breaks" from work (a really poor word to express what happens when you are home with small children), which does not help their long-term earnings power either. And there is straight-out pay discrimination, which is some portion of that 13 cents although it is hard to know just how much.

And so we have a smorgasbord of offerings to women in this budget. Female entrepreneurs will have $1.4-billion earmarked for them through the Business Development Bank, along with another $250-million through Export Development Canada. Given that these sums are relatively small and will be doled out over a series of years, they are not much more than a token, but a welcome one anyway. The same is true for a promise to support women entering the trades, and the $85-million allocated to investigate sexual harassment claims in the work force.

The one child-care measure in the budget is a "use it or lose it" parental leave program that can be used by men or women. That presumably will allow women to return to work earlier if they want while knowing that their partners are home on their own "break," taking care of their children. It is really not meaningful enough to change the hours worked by women very significantly, however.

Despite the hype, the measures directed at women in this budget are pretty scant, and that is actually okay. After all, according to that same Statistics Canada study, that 13-cent gap between men and women has narrowed already from 23 cents in 1977 and 18 cents in 1994. Maybe it is because over that period women have tired of waiting for help from the government and have gotten themselves loads more education and degrees, realizing that that is the best path to earning more. A just-published study from Georgetown University in Washington comes to the grim conclusion that for women to equal men's pay they need one full degree more their male counterparts. Depressing as that is, in both the U.S. and Canada, women seem to be getting on with it and making that happen.

Looking at the budget through economist-eyes shows that the thing that most threatens the economic health of women is the same thing that threatens men: There is red ink as far as the eye can see. With deficits merrily forecast for years to come, the government figures that Canadian public debt payments will grow by 37 per cent between the last fiscal year and 2022/23. That is a burden that is going to fall on millennial men and women, and on Generation Z and Generation Alpha as well.

Celebrating women is nice, but really the best way to say some things is with money and on that, this budget does not make the grade.

Linda Nazareth is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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