Hearkening back to his presidential campaigns and to his first few days in office, President Obama on Monday called on Congress to enact laws ensuring women and men are paid equally for the same work.
During a White House event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, the president said “it’s time to close the gap” and fix the sex-based paycheck disparity once and for all.
“I want every child to grow up knowing that a woman’s hard work is valued and rewarded just as much as any man’s,” he said during remarks in the East Room.
But while Mr. Obama highlighted the issue during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, Republican opposition and some conflicting data on the root causes of the problem have kept the president from making real breakthroughs, with one notable exception.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was signed into law just nine days after Mr. Obama came to power and enhances women’s ability to sue employers for wage discrimination.
Since then, Democratic attempts to push a new measure — the Paycheck Fairness Act — through Congress have stalled despite strong support from the White House. High-profile Republican women, such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan M. Collins of Maine, voted against the bill last year. It continues to face a steep climb on Capitol Hill.
Just last week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, crystallized conservative opposition to the measure.
“Women don’t want decisions on their salaries or bank accounts made in Washington. We want the power and control to make those decisions ourselves,” she wrote on her Facebook page a day after she made similar comments during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act certainly don’t argue that it’s appropriate for women to be paid less than men; the disagreements center on what one specific piece of legislation would do to solve the problem, and on the larger question of whether pay disparities can or should be fixed from Washington.
The bill would fix what some consider loopholes in the original Equal Pay Act, making companies prove beyond doubt that pay differences aren’t the result of sex. It also would strengthen penalties for sex-based wage discrimination, and would prohibit companies from retaliating against employees who share their salaries with co-workers.
During his remarks, Mr. Obama cited figures showing that since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the salary gap between the sexes has shrunk.
“The day that the bill was signed into law, women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned on average. Today, it’s about 77 cents,” he said. “I assume everybody thinks we can do better.”
Indeed, there’s plenty of data supporting the figures Mr. Obama put forth. But a 2009 report prepared for the Department of Labor contends that the issue may be more complicated than it appears on the surface.
“The differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors … The raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective actions,” reads a portion of the report, written by public policy research firm Consad Research Corp.
The study found that, among other things: A greater percentage of women than men work part time; and more women than men leave the workforce to care for their children or for elderly family members, with some of the wage gap “explained by the percentage of women who were not the labor force during previous years.”