Government Eyes More Data on Americans to Study Pay Disparities

The federal government collected data on 100 million Americans from 70,000 employers to prioritize investigations for what a report calls “systemic” pay discrimination.

To address the issue of pay disparities, the government is also open to expanding data collection.

“Is this going to be a smoking gun that definitively answers whether there is pay discrimination? That was never the intent, and I would be surprised if that was ever the result,” Charlotte A. Burrows, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Thursday during a press conference.

“We really can make a lot of use of it in deciding how to focus our resources,” said Burrows, a Democrat on the five-member commission since 2015 who was appointed chairwoman by President Joe Biden last year.

The EEOCIt completed its 2017 and 2018 data collection under court order in 2020. In 2020, the agency contracted to collect 2018 and 2017 pay data under court order. to study the pay data collected from private employers. 

The national academies A report released before the press conference identifies the most effective uses of pay data. 

The EEOC’s report on data collection also recommends the future collection of pay data. 

Andrea Lucas, a Republican member at the EEOC, stated that she is concerned about increased data collection becoming intrusive for employees. [Lucas is not related to The Daily Signal reporter who filed this news story.]

Lucas made the following public statement:

That potential mandatory data collection by the EEOC could include: each individual employee’s race and ethnicity; sex, gender identity (including non-binary and transgender identification), and sexual orientation; age, disability status, and veteran status; occupation and individual-level job titles; individual-level pay data (including wages, tips, and non-taxable earnings, including earnings that contribute to medical insurance and retirement accounts, as well as hours worked, weeks worked, fulltime/part-time status, and overtime classification status); and other pay-affecting factors including education, job experience, and employment tenure.

“Not only could this lead to a significant invasion of privacy for individual employees by their employers,” the Republican EEOC member added, “but in some instances it may be in violation of the laws that the EEOC is charged with enforcing—all for data that only may be more useful.”

Employers gathered data from employees and provided it to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission itself didn’t collect the data, Burrows stressed. 

“I wouldn’t presume to speak for all private sector employees, but I want to be clear, we did not collect individualized, personal information–[such as] Joe Smith’s salary,” Burrow told The Daily Signal during the press conference, when asked about concerns with the handling of sensitive employee information. 

Burrows, an attorney, stated that employers could benefit from the future direct collection of data about American workers by the government. 

“What we did is have the company provide it to us in a form that we thought would be a useful in a more aggregate way,” Burrows said, adding:

We did not collect individualized pay data with folks, although that is one of the things that the National Academy of Sciences has recognized would make such a collection—if we were to pursue it—less burdensome for the employers. I don’t have an opinion, and I’m not going to speak to where we might go in the future.

Lucas argued, however, that employers would still need to collect sensitive information about employees for data collection. 

“In pursuit of solving a speculative wage gap, the National Academies recommends an unprecedented, mandatory government collection of a detailed, individual snapshot of almost every private sector employee’s professional and personal life,” Lucas, also an attorney, said in her public statement. “The tangible—and intangible—costs of such a revised and aggressively expanded data collection could be severe.” 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded the collection of pay data was necessary for assessing pay practices and differences in compensation according to sex, race, and gender. 

The reportThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes that the use of pay data will enable it to pursue a more data-driven approach in its investigations and to identify systemic discrimination. 

Officials said that 90% of employers responded to the government’s request for pay data. 

The report concluded that the EEOC should increase its data collection and recommended improvements to make it easier to employers to produce the information.

The report also notes that data collection was “not well suited to measure pay equity by EEOC or by employers.”

Lucas said that the report still calls for the agency’s double-down on data collection. 

“In other words, the collection was a failure,” the Republican commissioner said. “The report identified significant issues not only with the data collection process but also the reliability and accuracy of the data collected by the EEOC, issues rendering the data practically useless.”

She said that companies spent more than half a million dollars on initial data collection, and that a subsequent expansion would likely prove more expensive.

Before the EEOC gambles on a potentially billion-dollar burden on our nation’s private employers, and incentivizes the intrusive collection of sensitive information from employees, at a minimum the agency must undertake a formal notice and comment rulemaking and a public hearing to ensure robust public comment and input.

The report lists unnamed Silicon Valley tech companies with pay disparities based upon race and gender. 

One tech company had a pay disparity of -51.3% between black men and white men. Another company had a pay gap between Hispanic female employees and white male employees of -52.3%. 

One Silicon Valley company had a pay gap between Asian female technicians and white male technicians of -52.4%.

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