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What is Fair?

What is fairness? More specifically, what is a fair method of compensation in the workplace? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask a free market purist, fairness means keeping the hands of regulation far away so the market can work. If you ask someone from a disadvantaged class, you’ll likely get a different response that focuses on systemic biases that the free market does not address. Let’s take a brief look at the issue of comparable worth to explore how hermeneutics creates a variety of definitions of fairness.

Comparable worth is the study of compensation among different groups, usually between men and women. In 2010, 190 years after American women earned the right to vote and five decades after the Civil Rights Act provided women increased access to education, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the United States. The reasons for this disparity are diverse and the true reason isn’t simple or easily attainable. The most common reason that women earn less is that women take jobs that the marketplace determines are less valuable. The study of comparable worth is focused on the fairness of this argument. If one believes the marketplace should be the guide for compensation, then the disparity in wages between men and women is a moot point. If women want to make more money, this theory goes, they should take jobs that pay more. But, perhaps the reason for the disparity is more complex. Maybe the market-driven philosophy is flawed because it doesn’t take into account systemic injustices. Is it possible that the jobs typically filled by women have been undervalued simply because they are filled by women? Is it possible that jobs typically filled by men have been overvalued simply because they are filled by men?

Take these National Wage Estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics into consideration:

Executive Secretary – $44,010

Brickmason – $49, 250

Family and Child Social Worker – $43,540

Carpenter – $43,640

Home Health Aide – $21,620

Painter – $37,320

Since this blog is concerned with exploring hermeneutics and the post-modern approaches to management, consider how people with different backgrounds would interpret these data. In general, would women view these data differently than men would? Would the well-educated view them differently than the less-educated? What about people from different ethnic backgrounds?

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Profile Photo Michele Costanza

Brickmasons, carpenters, and painters at one time were considered skilled labor when craftsmanship was more important in building than it is today. Those occupations were not necessarily viewed as unskilled labor. The brickmason, carpenter, and painter must assume a certain level of physical risk in safety on the job. If a painter falls from a ladder that will hurt current and future wages. Plus, their earnings are much more subject to market demands.

The other occupations listed typically require more investment in education and certifications, without assuming the physical risk of injury or harsh conditions working in inclement weather. However, classroom teachers, social workers, and home health aides would probably argue that today they encounter more physical confrontations in the workplace.

When all factors are considered, women in the same occupations as men make the same wages, not really 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.