EDITORIAL: Obama swings and misses by a mile on Equal Pay Day

April 9, 2014 

President Barack Obama's action Tuesday to address gender pay inequality appears little more than a symbolic ploy to keep women in the Democrats' corner for the midterm elections.

He issued an executive order in honor of Equal Pay Day that will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against workers who reveal their salary publicly, and he ordered the Labor Department to come up with rules for contractors to report data about salaries paid by gender and race.

Not exactly groundbreaking moves from the man whose first legislative action was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

But knowledge is power, and empowering women to demand fair pay, if only among federal contractors, is a step in the right direction. Secrecy, as Obama pointed out, fosters discrimination.

Besides, it's the most he's going to be able to achieve on this issue again as president. This week the Senate is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which bans gender as a factor in pay. It doesn't have much of a chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House.

Pay equity is a real issue as more women support families on their own, working full time as a parent and as a worker, yet collect substantially less pay. According to the White House, on average, full-time working women earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men.

That figure is in dispute. The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, shows the gap to be 19 cents -- not Obama's 23 cents. Studies of hourly wages indicate that women make 14 cents less per hour than men. But no one asserts that pay is equal.

That this inequity has followed us well into the 21st century shows how deeply embedded it is in American culture. Indeed, it turns out even Obama's White House has a problem with gender pay equality.

The conservative American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday released a report intended to deflate Obama's announcement about his pay equity moves by pointing out that women in the White House on average earn just 88 cents for each dollar the men earn. Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, didn't dispute it, though he argued that the data lumped all workers together from the high to the low, rather than looking at individual job classifications. While there are some top-level women in Obama's administration, there are more women at the lower level.

Well, yeah. That's the heart of the nation's pay inequity issue; it's more a problem of job equality than paycheck parity. Women earn less money in the work force on average because they inordinately populate the lower-paid and lower-status jobs across all industries and economic levels.

This extends to public sector jobs, too. Traditionally male jobs -- police officers -- typically get paid more than traditionally female public service jobs -- school teachers.

Too bad the president didn't use the example of his office as a teachable moment for pay equity.

Now, that would have been an Equal Pay Day to remember.

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