‘Worst Valentine’s Day Surprise Ever’
By John Johnson
Typically, an economic analysis that highlights a “trade fact of the week” might not sound like the sexiest of subjects. But in this case, the factoid highlighted by Ed Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute amounts to what he labels the “worst Valentine’s Day surprise ever.” In short, Gresser discovered that women’s underwear in the US is taxed higher than men’s underwear. He runs through the particulars and finds that, on average, the US tariff system adds $1.10 to the cost of each item of women’s underwear, compared to 75 cents for men’s. The US appears to be unique in this, he adds, with most countries applying a flat rate to underwear for both genders.
As a side note, Gresser points out that US underwear tariffs in general are surprisingly high, around 14.7%, compared to, say, 5% for steel. But it’s the gender disparity in particular that rankles Gresser, who ditches economist-speak at the end of his analysis to deliver a message to US policy-makers: “Seriously?! Boo! Do better!” The piece has gotten more attention than it might have because it was highlighted by columnist Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post, who points out that “unfairness on underwear reflects a broader, bizarrely anti-lady pattern in our trade system: With a few exceptions, men’s apparel items are more lightly tariffed than women’s.” This so-called “pink tax” largely goes unnoticed, she writes, and the “patterns seem to date back to lobbying from earlier eras.”