White House Promotes Economic Issues Facing Women

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Add pay equity to President Barack Obama’s 2014 do-it-himself wish list.

The White House is launching a campaign to promote a host of economic issues facing women, a key voting bloc in this year’s midterm election.

Obama hosted Democratic female lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday as his Council of Economic Advisers issued a report decrying a gender wage gap. The report highlights that full-time working women continue to earn less than men, despite surpassing men in obtaining college degrees and making inroads into traditionally male-dominated occupations.

“Despite that good news, what we also know is women are still making 77 cents on dollar – including when they enter into these high-paying professions, they’re still making less money,” Obama said during the meeting with the female lawmakers in the Roosevelt Room.

Obama said he will address economic issues facing women and families at a Working Families Summit on June 23 at Washington’s Omni Shoreham hotel, co-hosted by the administration and the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. The summit was announced as part of Obama’s State of the Union address in January, when he declared “when women succeed, America succeeds.”

The White House says ballots cast this fall by single women in particular will help determine which party performs best in the election. They argue the president’s focus on raising the minimum wage is particularly important for those voters, especially those trying to support a family.

But lawmakers have not embraced Obama’s call for the minimum wage increase – Obama got in a partisan dig as he said Congress is being “stubborn about these issues, at least some of our good friends on the other side of the aisle.”

Republicans point out that the White House has its own pay gap – an analysis of staff salaries done last fall by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found the president’s female aides were paid 88 cents for every dollar paid to men, about $65,000 to $73,729 annually. The White House responds that men and women in equivalent roles at the White House earn the same amount and that 10 of 16 department heads are women, earning the top White House salary of $172,200. However, the 77-cent gender gap that Obama is criticizing is calculated workforce-wide and does not represent a comparison of equivalent positions.

The report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers says Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 would shrink the gender wage gap by nearly 5 percent, since women are more likely to earn minimum wage. The report says women account for a rising share of family income, with married women’s earnings on average nearly 45 percent of total family earnings in 2013.

The report says although women have increasingly entered traditionally male-dominated fields like medicine, law, management and science, even those women with advanced degrees begin to fall behind their male colleagues in earnings by their late 30s. And women are still concentrated in low-wage sectors of the workforce like health care support and personal care, the report says.

“We know that women continue to be disproportionately represented in low-wage professions, which means that something like an increase in the federal minimum wage is going to have a disproportionate impact on them,” Obama said. “And women are still the ones that are carrying the greatest burden when it comes to trying to balance family and work because of inadequate child care or the inability to get paid leave for a sick child or an ailing parent.”

Betsey Stevenson, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters that the government can help support equal pay and paid leave that will support working women, and the summit will explore more ideas. She noted that other industrialized nations have done a better job of bringing gender equity to the workplace and that closing the gap in the United States will boost the entire economy.

“Countries that provide more support to working families, more flexible work arrangements, greater access to paid leave, greater access to child care, greater access to early childhood education – all of those things actually do facilitate women participating to a greater extent in the labor force,” she said.

“What we want to do is make sure that we’ve done as much as we can, that businesses are doing as much as they can to not lose women at those critical moments when they’re having children, when they have young children at home,” she said.

The White House said administration officials will participate in regional events across the country to explore issues facing women in the workplace in preparation for the summit, which also will showcase companies with family-friendly policies.

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