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By Eric Stirgus April 18, 2014

Nunn avoids slip up on gender pay claim

Democrats and Republicans have yet again found an issue to disagree on -- the gender pay gap -- and one U.S. Senate candidate’s comments about it drew the attention of our Truth-O-Meter.

"On average, women make 77 cents for every dollar men make," the candidate, Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, has said in statements and on her Facebook page.

Is this statistic true?

Senate Democrats earlier this month failed to get the 60 votes required to break a Republican filibuster blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act, which among other things, would require the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect data about pay from employers. Nunn and other Democrats say the bill would help women earn the same wages as men. Republicans say the legislation is unnecessary and would result in more civil lawsuits.

A few area Republicans saw Nunn’s comments about the gender pay gap and asked us to fact-check Nunn, who has sought centrist positions on many issues.

Some political analysts see the gender pay gap battle as an election-year effort by Democrats to woo women to their side. Several Democrats have used the 77 cents claim in this ongoing debate, some with more accuracy than others.

For example, we recently gave former President Jimmy Carter a Mostly False rating for his statement that "in the United States for the same exact work for a full-time employee, women get 23 percent less pay than men."

The number Carter used comes from a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau study that looked at the total wages earned by male and female workers. The study found men’s total wages -- key words here, total wages -- were about 23 percentage points higher than the total amount of women's wages. But that large discrepancy was due in part to the fact that men generally work more hours.

And this is a key point: The census study did not attempt to look at equal pay for the same work or the same number of hours worked.

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Other data -- including hourly wages tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as data comparing the same jobs -- yield smaller wage gaps.

The Census Bureau number does not take into account critical factors that could influence the figure, including specific occupation, time on the job and education level.

The gap drops dramatically if you compare men and women of similar education levels, job titles, time on the job and other relevant factors.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis cited one survey, prepared for the Labor Department. It found that when such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap vanished.

President Barack Obama made a somewhat similar statement to Carter’s on the campaign trail in 2012 when he said "women (are) paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men." Our colleagues at PolitiFact in Washington rated that statement Mostly False for many of the same reasons we gave the same rating to Carter.

Perhaps seeing the trouble with that statement, Obama said in his 2014 State of the Union address that women "make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns." That statement is more in line with the U.S. Census Bureau study because the president did not say that women were doing the same work and being underpaid. PolitiFact found other research that showed a smaller pay gap. PolitiFact rated Obama’s revised statement Mostly True.

There are two key points to Nunn’s statement. She began with the qualifier "on average." And she did not say there was a pay gap for women doing the same work as men.

That puts Nunn’s statement more in line with the U.S. Census Bureau study. Nunn made no attempt to equate equal work with equal pay -- a comparison that has landed some of her fellow politicians on shaky Truth-O-Meter terrain.

Her statement could have used a little context, but she is mostly on target.

We rate Nunn’s statement Mostly True.

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Nunn avoids slip up on gender pay claim

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