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Opinion

Dry cleaners press Obama over 'gender-gap' rhetoric

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Ashe Schow,Gender Issues,Income Inequality

America's dry cleaners aren't happy that President Obama used them as an example in remarks last week about the economic gap between the sexes.

They say the disparity in dry cleaning bills is more complex than the systemized discrimination Obama hinted at in his April 8 remarks about the so-called "pay gap" between the sexes.

The truth is that, as should be obvious to anyone with working eyes and/or the ability to touch, women's clothes are made with different fabrics, tailored differently and are more delicate. That means it is the garment - not the person's gender - that results in higher dry-cleaning bills, as Nora Nealis, executive director for the National Cleaners Association, wrote in a letter to Obama.

As an industry, dry cleaners do not charge more for a woman’s shirt than a man’s shirt, they charge more for a hand ironed shirt than they do a machine pressed shirt. If you check your own dry cleaning bill, you’ll find that YOU pay more for the laundering and finishing of your hand ironed tuxedo shirt, than you do for the automated processing of your everyday traditional dress shirt! The price is in the math as calculated by the labor required not the gender of the client!

Simple math. Hand ironing takes more time and requires more skill, and therefore costs the cleaner more to produce. Because it costs more to produce, he charges more for the work.

Dry cleaners’ automated finishing equipment was made to support men’s clothes. But just in case Obama or anyone else in his administration would ask why dry cleaners don’t invest in new equipment to accommodate women’s clothes, Nealis had the answer.

The number of simply cut (no frills like your tuxedo shirt) women’s shirts that are hanging in the nation’s closets are a small fraction of the number of simple men’s dress shirts. Like most male professionals, you wear a shirt most every day. That means you have lots of shirts and by extension your cleaner has lots of men’s shirts to launder and press for you, and others like you. By contrast, how often does the First Lady or your average American woman wear a simple, man-tailored shirt.

But I doubt this distinction would make it into Obama's rhetoric, given his propensity to continue using the misleading figure that women only make 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.

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