Many of these reports favorably compared the numbers in the Biden White House with analyses of the Obama and Trump White Houses by American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry, who has been crunching these numbers for years. Perry found that the pay gap was 37 percent under Donald Trump in 2017 and almost 11 percent under Barack Obama in 2016.
But Perry, who provided us with an Excel document of his research, says that when he examined the data released by the Biden White House, he came up with a dramatically different figure — a 20 percent gender pay gap.
What’s going on? Here’s the explanation.
Note that the White House fact sheet referred to “average” salaries. That’s also known as the mean. Essentially, all of the salaries are added up and then divided by the number of people being counted.
But when discussing the gender pay gap, government agencies such as the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics generally cite the median wage. That’s the salary right in the middle, with 50 percent of those counted above that level and 50 percent below it. Averages can be skewed by very high or low salaries, which is why median is preferable when discussing the gender pay gap.
When the White House noted Equal Pay Day earlier this year, it cited a median figure from the Census Bureau: “Women working full-time, year-round are typically paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men.”
When Perry examined the Biden White House salary data, he noticed that women had both a majority of the top-paying jobs and the lowest-paid jobs. There appear to be 41 women compared with 31 men who make $155,000 or more, and there are 50 women earning $48,000 versus 17 men. “Women are overrepresented on both the low and high ends of the salary distribution, which could be another reason that median is preferred to mean as a way to determine the salary of a ‘typical’ White House staffer,” he said.
We should note that the White House, in its report to Congress, does not list the sex of an employee. Some names are gender-neutral, making if difficult to ensure total accuracy. Perry tries to figure it out via Google searches, but at least one name this year stumped him.
The White House, in doing its average-pay calculations, did not include 48 employees who were retained from the previous administration on the grounds that their salaries had been determined before President Biden took office, a White House official said. These people are not identified in the report, and so Perry would not be able to remove them from his calculations.
The White House also does not include 26 people who were detailed to the White House from other agencies. Those people are identified in the report to Congress, and Perry includes them in his analysis, as he did in previous years.
In other words, Perry’s analysis is based on dozens of more people than the White House figures.
Neither the White House nor Perry included 36 members of the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court — which are unpaid positions.
In all, the White House official said, the fact-sheet analysis was based on salary data for 450 people hired since Biden took office. The White House chose to use an average figure because it seemed to be an understandable and accurate way to discuss the similarities in pay, the official said. But the official agreed that median pay also made sense.
When officials crunched the numbers for median pay at The Fact Checker’s request, it turned out that for the 450 people, the median pay was $80,000 for both men and women, the official said. Moreover, the same result was achieved when officials included the historically retained staff — $80,000 median for men and $80,000 median for women.
Perry had women at $80,000 — but men at $100,000. His analysis also included people detailed from other agencies. He said that when he excluded detailees, the result was a median pay of $80,000 for women and $85,000 for men.
The Bottom Line
The Biden White House figures are not comparable to previous White Houses, as many news reports suggested. Perry’s method of calculating the data includes many more people than in the universe assessed by the Biden White House. The reasons for not including some employees appear defensible — the goal was to look at salaries that the Biden team was responsible for — but previous White Houses did not undertake the same calculations.
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