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Were Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina Right About Women’s Wages In The GOP Debate?

During last night’s Republican debate Cruz and Fiorina claimed that Obama’s economic policies have hurt women. We check their facts.

Were Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina Right About Women’s Wages In The GOP Debate?

Despite Governor Chris Christie’s pronouncement that last night’s Republican debate was an intelligent discussion of ideas and policies, those watching at home witnessed a free-wheeling forum full of zingers that touched on some hot-button issues without actually taking a dive into any of them.

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Add to that the fact that many of the candidates shouted over each other and ran roughshod over the moderators and it’s no wonder that the so-called highlights included statements such as Jeb Bush’s “I’ll give them a warm kiss.”

A couple of declarations stood out among the quips and jabs. When asked how he would address the gender wage gap, Senator Ted Cruz told a story about his mother’s brief stint as a single mom, as well as the numerous single mothers in his extended family. Then he offered:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and all the Democrats talking about wanting to address the plight of working women, not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama, 3.7 million women have entered poverty. Not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama and the big government economy, the median wage for women has dropped $733. The truth of the matter is, big government benefits the wealthy, it benefits the lobbyists, it benefits the giant corporations. And the people who are getting hammered are small businesses, it’s single moms, it’s Hispanics.

Carly Fiorina piled on, adding:

It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women. Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.

Those numbers may be large and surprising. But while accurate, they don’t really tell the whole story.

Have Women’s Wages Dropped During Obama’s Presidency?

The wage gap is as complex as it is persistent. Although we always hear the 77 cents to a dollar ratio, as Senator Cruz pointed out, Hispanics get an even worse deal. Recent estimates reveal that white women only earn 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, while African-American women earn only 64 cents and Latina women earn only 55 cents for each dollar.

Cruz’s argument that more women have fallen into poverty, thereby affecting the median wage also needs a bit of untangling.

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According to historical data from the U.S. Census, the poverty rate has been rising since 1972 for people of both genders and all races. Between 2000 and 2014 (both Bush and Obama administrations) the number of female heads of households living below the poverty line has risen and fallen, and risen and fallen again. In the first year of the Bush administration, the number of single women heading households living in poverty was 28.6% and rose to 31.4% when he left office. Obama’s tenure so far logged a high of 34.2% in 2011 and fell to last year’s 33.1%.

Were 92% Of Jobs Lost Held By Women?

As for Fiorina’s accusation, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January 29, 2009, shortly after his inauguration. The act was supported by numerous women’s organizations–hardly grounds to call the move “demonstrably bad for women.”

Likewise, Fiorina’s comment about the 92% of jobs lost were held by women doesn’t hold up under closer inspection. Fiorina likely cribbed this number from Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. Back then, PolitiFact’s analysts found the statement to be false.

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 66.9 million women were employed in the U.S. when Obama took office in January 2009. That number rose to 67.1 million by the beginning of his second term in 2013.

According to the New York Times:

Overall employment similarly rose slightly, from 142.15 million to 143.32 million, meaning the pattern of employment among women in Obama’s first term was similar to the pattern among men.

That said, the unemployment rate among both groups was higher at the end of his first term than the beginning, with the jobless rate among women rising to 7.8% in January 2013 from 7% in January 2009, reflecting a growing population.

How They Can Get Away With Fudging the Facts

Public speaking, especially in a debate forum, is a tough environment for even the most practiced and confident individual. Cruz tried to take the relatable route, calling on his personal experience with a single mother and being Hispanic.

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For her part, Fiorina has shown that she doesn’t flinch when criticized, and can think on her feet. She has also mastered her delivery of facts and numbers no doubt in the crucible of board meetings and earnings calls.

Among the important tools for any public speaker, Fiorina often draws on practice, a good hook, and the ability to offer her audience the one-two punch of roadblock and solution. It almost doesn’t matter what number she uses, by then she sounds like she’s completely in command.

Related: Sallie Krawcheck On The Benefits Of Investing In Women

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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