Although his own White House pays women less on average than men, President Obama called on congressional Republicans Thursday to approve measures aimed at paying women better salaries and granting them more generous family leave.
Speaking to a largely female audience at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., the president urged lawmakers to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would put the legal burden on employers to prove that differences in pay between male and female workers are not related to gender. Mr. Obama blamed Senate Republicans for blocking the legislation.
“We’ve got to get them to change their minds and join us in this century, because a woman deserves equal pay for equal work,” Mr. Obama said to laughter.
Citing studies that show women earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, Mr. Obama said, “That’s wrong. This isn’t 1958. It’s not that complicated. When women make less than men, that hurts their families, including their partners, their husbands, their kids.”
The president didn’t mention that women in his White House earn less, on average, than men. A review by McClatchy Newspapers in January found that women overall at the White House are paid an average 91 percent of what their male counterparts earn — $84,082 for men, $76,516 for women.
White House officials have said the study shouldn’t have looked at overall pay and instead compared employees in the same positions. For example, all press assistants earn $42,000 per year, regardless of gender.
The president also got the facts wrong when trying to make the argument that there should be more women in Congress.
“Part of our challenge is fewer than 20 seats in Congress are held by women,” he said. “I think we’re all clear that Congress would get more done if you kind of evened that out a little bit.”
He was talking about the percentage of seats held by women — 18.5 percent. There are 99 women in Congress; 20 in the Senate and 79 in the House.
Thursday’s event was the first of five regional forums that will be hosted by White House officials on women’s issues this spring.
In addition to Mr. Obama’s push for wage parity, Democrats hope the events will serve to energize a key constituency for the November midterm elections.
In recent weeks, the administration has promoted events aimed at other key parts of the Democratic voter base, including environmentalists and workers earning minimum wage. Mr. Obama cast the choices facing Congress on pay equity, raising the minimum wage and granting paid family leave as election-year questions.
“On each of these issues, members of Congress will have to choose between helping women and families get ahead or holding them back,” he said.
The president cited his daughters, Sasha and Malia, as one of his primary motivations for pushing for equal pay.
“I want to make sure my daughters are getting the same chances as men,” he said. “I don’t want them paid less for doing the same job as some guy is doing.”
Mr. Obama said although women make up the majority of college graduates, the economy isn’t keeping pace with good-paying jobs for them.
“They’re facing unfair choices or outdated workplace policies that are holding them back,” the president said. “When any of our citizens can’t fulfill their potential for any reason that doesn’t have to do with their talent or their character or their work ethic, well, that’s holding us back. It’s time for a woman’s economic agenda that grows our economy for everybody.”