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It's Pay Equity Day: Obama takes executive action to boost opportunity for women

Lily Ledbetter, for which the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named - the first law that President Barack Obama signed when he came into office in January, 2009.
Lily Ledbetter, for which the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named - the first law that President Barack Obama signed when he came into office in January, 2009.
© 2014 Karen Rubin/

A culture of dependency.

Republicans are fond of castigating the poor as maladjusted, inadequate, parasites - and yet, they foster the structure that keeps people dependent: refusing to raise the minimum wage, refusing to pass the Pay Equity Act, refusing to support child care and yet requiring young mothers to work by denying them access to assistance. It's a system designed to keep people - mostly women, whom they attack with particular hostility - at a barely subsistence level, in perpetual survival mode, struggling daily.

And it hurts the generations - these mothers cannot provide the extra programs that stimulate the mind and trigger the potential of their children, so their children struggle in school, as well. That is not to say some children don't break out - by sheer talent and force of will - but it makes it that much harder.

Certainly not an equal playing field.

Republicans love to wave that flag of American Exceptionalism, recite the phrase "American Dream" like a mantra, and yet do nothing to actually address the systemic issues that have robbed individuals of opportunity.

But as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (the first woman Speaker of the House) pointed out:

  • Women make 77 cents to every dollar their male counterparts earn.
  • That comes out to $400,000 over the course of a career.
  • 31% of the 15.1 million families where a woman is the breadwinner fall below the poverty line.

"It's not a myth, it's math," the President said today, "Equal Pay Day," when signing two executive orders designed to help equalize the playing field.

The first Executive Order prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation. The Executive Order does not compel workers to discuss pay, nor does it require employers to publish or otherwise disseminate pay data – but it does provide a critical tool to encourage pay transparency, so workers have a potential way of discovering violations of equal pay laws and are able to seek appropriate remedies.

In addition, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum instructing the Secretary of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race. The Department of Labor will use the data to encourage compliance with equal pay laws and to target enforcement more effectively by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies and reducing burdens on other employers.

Equal Pay Day falls on April 8 because it takes a woman 463 days to earn what men make in one year for the same work.

It costs women hundreds of thousands of dollars during the course of their working lives, but also into their retirement, since pension and Social Security are also figured based on wage income.

Pay discrimination doesn’t just impact women, it impacts families, and it impacts the larger society. Women are the sole or primary providers in 40 percent of American households with children.

Goldman Sachs estimated that if there were in fact pay equity, the GDP would rise by 9%. - think what that would do to help erase the federal budget deficit and drive down the national debt.

President Obama, whose first bill he signed as President in January 2009 was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, today took upon himself a second battery of Executive Actions designed to equalize the playing field - requiring federal contractors to set aside their contractual prohibitions against workers discussing their compensation, so that a worker would know if they are being discriminated against and can sue under the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

This follows the executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 (instead of $7.25).

In both instances, the Presidenbt has called upon Congress to adopt similar legislation to cover all employers.

But they refuse to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Republicans like to hide behind the veneer that there already is protection against gender discrimination -but they know full well that women can't act on it unless they know they are being discriminated against, but many employers forbid workers to discuss compensation under penalty of being fired.

In fact, Lily Ledbetter only found out how she was being discriminated against for years and years when someone anonymously sent her a note - even though she won her discrimination suit, the Supreme Court overturned it claiming that by the time she learned of the discrimination and took legal action, the statute of limitations had run out The Lily Ledbetter Act changes the start-time for the clock to when the woman learns of the discrimination.

It cost Lily Ledbetter hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost pay over the course of her decades long career as a manager earning substantially less than her male counterparts, and it also cost her in the pension she accrued. It cost her in what she could provide for her children and her grandchildren as a consequence of being discriminated against.

And millions of Americans who work full time but do not make a living wage, are dependent upon government social safety net - food stamps, children's nutrition program, and Medicaid and other services.

We hear the Republicans rail against the national debt, and certainly against the social safety net - how they resent having to pay a family food stamps or to give children free meals at school.

They forced a cut of $8 billion in food stamps as a condition of not shutting down the federal government again.

Obscenely profitable companies like Walmart and McDonalds are actually subsidized by taxpayers because their workers have to use food stamps in order to survive.

The Republicans are obsessed with the budget deficit and national debt and so are obsessed with cutting social services (along with corporate taxes), but somehow let corporate welfare slide by.

But pay equity and raising the minimum wage would both bring down the budget deficit, pay down the national debt - by reducing the outlay for social services and increasing tax revenues.

The first executive order that President Obama signed, notes "When employees are prohibited from inquiring about, disclosing, or discussing their compensation with fellow workers, compensation discrimination is much more difficult to discover and remediate, and more likely to persist. Such prohibitions (either express or tacit) also restrict the amount of information available to participants in the Federal contracting labor pool, which tends to diminish market efficiency and decrease the likelihood that the most qualified and productive workers are hired at the market efficient price. Ensuring that employees of Federal contractors may discuss their compensation without fear of adverse action will enhance the ability of Federal contractors and their employees to detect and remediate unlawful discriminatory practices, which will contribute to a more efficient market in Federal contracting."

Republicans supposedly love "free" market capitalism. But workers don't have access to the information they need in order to properly assess a value to their work.

Obama, on the other hand, has said "when women succeed, America succeeds," and has advanced policies that contribute to women's success, redressing the structural impediments.

In 2010, President Obama created first ever National Equal Pay Task Force to crack down on violations of equal pay laws, and the president's budget encourages state pay initiatives. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have done so.

"This week, the Senate is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the President believes Congress must pass to ensure the standards put forward by the executive order he will sign are applied to all employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The President is using the power of his pen to act where he can on this issue, and will continue to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure all employers are held to the same high standard working women deserve," the White House said.

The actions are part of President Obama's Opportunity Agenda that he has set for 2014, which he promised would be "a year of action."

Expanding Opportunity for All: Ensuring Equal Pay for Women and Promoting the Women’s Economic Agenda

Here is a summary of initiatives that Obama has proposed to promote the Women's Opportunity Agenda:

Building on Progress: "Since day one, President Obama has been laser-focused on ensuring women have the fundamental rights they deserve when it comes to earning a fair and equal wage."

Raising the national minimum wage, including signing an executive order that will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers. Raising the national minimum wage would give millions of hard working Americans a raise and would especially benefit women.

While women account for about half of the workforce, 55 percent of non-tipped workers benefiting from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour are women – and women are even more disproportionately represented in predominantly tipped occupations.

Women account for a higher concentration of workers in low-wage sectors of the labor force such as food preparation, sales and personal care workers.

Raising the minimum wage would increase the average wage among the bottom quartile of female workers by 93 cents (from $8.78), compared to 60 cents (from $9.65) for the bottom quartile of male workers.

Women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households but are bringing home 23 percent less than their male counterparts – which means less for families’ everyday needs, less for investments in our children’s futures, and, when added over a lifetime of work, substantially less for retirement. And the pay gap is significantly greater for women of color, with African-American women earning 64 cents and Latinas earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man. That is why the Obama Administration is:

Combating pay discrimination. The President made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed into law, which extended the time period in which claimants can bring pay discrimination claims and enabled countless victims of pay discrimination to seek redress where they otherwise could not.

Created a National Equal Pay Task Force. In 2010, the President created the National Equal Pay Task Force to crack down on violations of equal pay laws. Under this Administration, the government has strengthened enforcement, recovered substantial monetary recoveries, and made critical investments in education and outreach for both employers and employees.

Promoting the Paycheck Fairness Act. The President continues to call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that would give women additional tools to fight pay discrimination.

Encouraging State Paid Leave Initiatives. In addition, the President’s Budget provides support for States that are considering establishing paid leave programs, as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have done.

Leveraging Technology to Close the Pay Gap. DOL, in conjunction with the Equal Pay Task Force, launched the “Equal Pay App Challenge” and invited software developers to create applications that provide greater access to pay data, deploy interactive tools for early career coaching or online mentoring, or disseminate data to help inform pay negotiations. The winning teams created tools that (1) provide easy access to U.S. wage estimates by city, state and job title, empowering employees or applicants for employment with reliable and specific compensation information to support informed salary negotiations; and (2) supply users with current wage data and interview, resume and negotiation tools, as well as connect users to relevant social networks.

Expanding the EITC for Childless Workers. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a proven tool to increase and reward work among low-income families with children. However, childless workers – including noncustodial parents – can receive only up to $500 and must be at least 25 years old, so the credit does little to encourage work, particularly during the crucial years at the beginning of a young person’s career. The President has proposed doubling the maximum credit to $1,000, raising the income eligibility standard so the credit is available to a full-time minimum wage worker, and lowering the age limit from 25 to 21. The proposed expansion would be fully paid for within his budget and would benefit 13.5 million workers, including 6.1 million women.

See also: Empowerment or subjugation? GOP, Dems offer real difference on Women's Issues and slideshow

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
© 2014 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to or email 'Like' us on

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