As reported in the Des Moines Register, a jury recently found the State of Iowa guilty of illegal discrimination against a transgender man. He had not been allowed to use the men’s bathroom or locker room, and he had been denied health insurance coverage for gender re-assignment surgery. (See link below to Register article.)
It is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. But refusal by government or private employers to cover gender reassignment surgery under their health insurance plans should not be considered wrongful discrimination, unless the plans cover other types of cosmetic procedures for people who feel similar dysphoria. People may feel mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. We have already seen that requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the premiums unaffordable for many people. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.
According to an article in the Des Moines Register, The American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued their annual report on the “pay gap” between women and men. According to the report, women in Iowa earn about $10,000 less per year than men. This article, and the related report, are excellent examples of misuse of meaningless statistics. (See link below.) Comparing the median pay for all women with the median pay for all men tells us nothing about whether or not sex discrimination is taking place. A valid analysis would compare the pay of women and men who do the same work for the same employer. The report by the AAUW did not do that.
This report tells us more about the bias of the AAUW than it does about bias in the workplace. As you reported, Kim Churches, chief executive officer of AAUW, said, “It’s unacceptable. There is no gender differentiation when it comes to quality, skills, and talent. It’s time to close this gap and give every woman in Iowa and across the country the salaries they deserve.” She advocated for more regulation.
Based on the facts given in the article, and assuming that women and men can and do perform equally, then it is fair to presume that the AAUW would agree that if any woman wants to earn the same pay as a man, then they should go for the same jobs that men go for. When the relevant qualifications, working conditions, and job duties are accounted for, the difference in pay between women and men reduces dramatically. The pay gap has been reducing for years. Our current laws are working. We don’t need to add more regulations.
Recently, candidates for office in Iowa have been asked to promise future Iowa public employees that they will make no changes to the Iowa Public Employment Retirement System (IPERS) retirement plan. Instead, politicians need to state clearly that they make no promises to future employees about their retirement benefits. The fact that IPERS is currently underfunded by about $7 billion shows clearly that we already have over-promised benefits when compared to what we expected taxpayers and public employees to pay.
(When government has a defined benefit plan, the participants seem to think that any over-funding is their asset, but any under-funding is a liability of the taxpayers. In the past, when IPERS was over-funded, benefits were increased!)
The way to make sure that we don’t make retirement benefit promises that turn out to be more expensive than we expect to pay is to put new government employees on a defined contribution retirement plan – just like most employees in the private sector. This will cause the unfunded liability to come due over the next 50+ years, but at least it won’t get worse.
In a recent Iowa View essay in the Des Moines Register, Josh Mandelbaum wrote that Republican proposals to move the Iowa public employee’s pension plan (IPERS) away from a defined benefit plan and toward a defined contribution plan are, “ideologically driven”. If by that term he means an ideology under which employee pensions should be financially sustainable and fair to both employees and taxpayers, then count me as ideologically driven also… and that’s a good thing.
In our political/government employment environment, defined contribution plans have mostly been significantly underfunded and unsustainable. In an actuarially sound defined benefit plan, the balance in the fund should have a surplus as often as it has a deficit. But, as we have seen in the past, when there appears to be a funding surplus, politicians increase benefits rather temporarily lowering the contributions paid by both taxpayers and employees. There is a built-in tendency for politicians to over-promise and under-fund because future benefits will not be paid out until many years later. Supporters of the current IPERS system like to say that Iowa has one of the most financially sound retirement systems in the U.S. IPERS is only about $7 billion short of the funds necessary to keep its promises! It has only about 81 cents for each dollar that it owes.
Defined contribution plans can have most of the same benefits, and potentially more, for employees. It does shift significant responsibility and risk to the employee to invest wisely and to not spend retirement money too fast during retirement. But, under a defined contribution plan the employees own the money in their retirement account, and can take it with them if they decide to change employers, and can leave it to anyone they wish after they die.
There will be a significant fiscal challenge that must be met if we were to make the change from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan: If new employees put their retirement contributions into a defined contribution plan and don’t contribute to the existing defined benefit plan, the already-existing $7 billion of under-funding of IPERS will come due and need to be paid out over the next 50 – 60 years. In a big way, IPERS is still operating like a giant Ponzi Scheme – taking money from new investors to payoff old investors. (Illegal if done in the private sector.) It is time for us to lock-in the under-funding liability and stop making it worse. We need to put new government employees into a defined contribution plan.
In Des Moines Register’s recent article about the pay gap between men and women working for the State of Iowa, the headlines and introductory paragraphs seemed to imply that there is something wrong about the fact that men working for the State get paid, on average, about $5,300 more than women. (See link below.) The proper question that needs to be asked and answered is: Are men and women with substantially the same job and qualifications paid differently or treated differently?
The full article was fairly balanced. Toward the end of the fairly lengthy article the Register reported: “A 2006 study at the University of Iowa found that almost all faculty pay variations were the result of known factors that were expected to affect salary, including the discipline taught, seniority, tenure status and faculty rank.” “When those factors were taken into account, ‘there were no overall statistically significant gender- or minority-status based salary differences,’ Jeneane Beck, a University of Iowa spokeswoman, said.” Also further down in the article the Register quoted Iowa State University economist, Dave Swensen, saying, “It remains that large fractions of administrative support employment are female, which do earn substantially less than management, technical and other professional occupations,”
So, although there may or may not be some isolated problems, overall there appears to be no overall problem with the pay difference that was reported.
A transgendered person should be eligible to serve in the military, just like just like every other man or women, and just like every other gay or straight person. If they are qualified to do the job, then government should not discriminate against them based on their transgendered status. That does not mean the military or taxpayers should foot the bill for sex change operations. Just as being transgendered is not a disease, surgery to to change a person’s sex is not a medical necessity. Transgendered folks will can be completely healthy without a sex change operation. So, sex change operations should be considered elective, and not be required to be covered by any insurance plan, including that of the military.
The Des Moines Register reported today (7/24/2014) that, “An Iowa newspaper editor fired after publishing his views on homosexuals is claiming he was the victim of religious discrimination by his former employer.” He has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Editors of newspapers should not be protected by laws against discrimination in employment based on religious belief. Newspapers are privately owned businesses that typically express the opinions of their owners. They benefit our society by their independent advocacy regarding public policy. They should not be forced by government to employ editors who hold beliefs contrary to their own – especially political or public policy beliefs. Owners of newspapers should be free to fire editors at will, unless they have entered into an employment contract to the contrary. For government to force a newspaper to continue to employ an editor is wrong and is bad public policy.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2014/07/23/newspaper-editor-fired-gaystapo/13047733/