President Barack Obama again was pushing his economic opportunity program in his weekly address released on Saturday morning, March 22, 2014, this time emphasizing his women's economic agenda, equal pay for equal work, paid leave, and raising the minimum wage. President Obama also called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, saying; "It's time to give America a raise."
The president has consistently spent his weekly addresses selling his economic opportunity program since that start of 2014, which began his year of action on the economic, pledging to pass as much legislation he can help Americans reach the middle class through executive action, order, and presidential memorandums when Congress will not move. This week however, the president is urging Congress to pass these important pieces of legislation, just as they are returning from a week recess.
President Obama's women economic agenda is part of his economic opportunity program, which is compromised of four parts; creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and fair wages including equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage.
In his weekly address entitled "Rewarding Women's Hard Work and Increasing the Minimum Wage" President Obama tries to make the case that women should be granted equal pay for equal work. Despite the advances in American society and rights, women are still not receiving the same pay as men when they do the same work. Just this past Thursday, March 20, 2014 the President spoke at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida about the same issue.
Obama emphasized the advances women have made and the important role they play in the economy, stating that "Today, women make up about half of our workforce, and more than half of our college graduates. More women are now their families' main breadwinner than ever before."
The unfortunate aspect is despite these realities, women are still only paid 77 cents per every dollar men earn. The president recounted this backwards state; "But in a lot of ways, our economy hasn't caught up to this new reality yet. On average, a woman still earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man does."
The White House Council of Economic Advisers released on March 12, 2014 a report on "the state of the workforce women" which determined that despite much advances, especially regarding education, women still learn less, on 77 cents of the dollar men earn in the same work. The next step is to urge Congress to pass Paycheck Fairness Act, which as Obama always likes to state, does not have Republican support.
President Obama believes that it needs to go beyond equal pay to ensure women are treated fair in the workplace and part this revolves around allowing paid leave for women is they have an emergency and need to take sick days, parental leaves or maternity leave. Obama highlighted that women are not granted and guaranteed paid leaves that they need; "And too many women face outdated workplace policies that hold them back - which in turn holds back our families and our entire economy."
The president declared that Congress has to remedy this problem, stating; "A woman deserves to earn equal pay for equal work, and paid leave that lets you take a day off to care for a sick child or parent. Congress needs to act on these priorities."
Closely linked to the president's women's economic agenda is raising the minimum wage. Women compromise a majority who would benefit as the White House Council of Economic Advisers report released earlier in the month stated; "Crucially, raising wages for women means raising income for families, as women continue to account for a rising share of family income."
Part of fairness towards women in the workplace, is raising the minimum raise which the president has pushing for since delivering his State of the Union address in January. Obama wants to lift the wage up from $7.25 to $10.10 for all American workers by 2016, and continued to urge Congress to pass legislation. The president stated; "when women hold most lower-wage jobs in America, Congress needs to raise the minimum wage. Because no woman who works full-time should ever have to raise her children in poverty."
Although Congress has yet to raise the minimum wage Obama has been pursuing two alternatives to bypass Congress, he signed an executive to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers, and has been urging state governors to raise the minimum wage. So far six states have raised the minimum wage, including; "California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island," have done so since Obama first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage during his 2013 State of the Union Address, now 14 other states are considering do the same. President Obama took stock, stating; "Now, the good news is that in the year since I first called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, six states have passed laws to raise theirs. More states, counties, and cities are working to raise their minimum wages as we speak."
Obama has been highlighting businesses that have taken the initiative themselves to raise their minimum wage. So far Obama has praised Costco, the Gap, Cafe Beauregard in New Britain, and now Pi Pizzeria. Obama commended "Small businesses like St. Louis-based Pi Pizzeria, are raising their wages too - not out of charity, but because it's good for business. And by the way, Pi makes a really good pizza."
The president followed through with his advocating economic action by raising the minimum wage for federal contractors through an executive order on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 12. Obama touted his action, saying; "And in this year of action, I signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least ten dollars and ten cents an hour."
The proposed Senate bill to raise the minimum wage is sponsored by two Democrats, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and California Representative George Miller. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV has promised the president that he will put raising the minimum wage to a vote in March, but with a few days left after Congress returns from a recess that does not seem that possible now. The bill would face opposition in the Republican House of Representatives from the Speaker John Boehner, R-OH who has numerous times stated that raising the minimum wage will result in less jobs for the lower income bracket.
Although President Obama promised a year of economic action using executive orders to act where Congress fails to do so, the executive orders and presidential memorandum have limits and the president still needs Congress to pass certain legislation. However to achieve a universal raise, Obama still needs to convince Congress to pass a bill. The president again urged Congress; "But if we're truly going to reward the hard work of every American, Congress needs to join the rest of the country and pass a bill that would lift the federal minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents an hour."
The Republican Congress is reluctant citing an Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) recent report stating jobs will be loss as a result of a raise. President Obama tried to counter those claims spouting the benefits to the economy and for workers if the minimum wage was raised. Obama explained; "This wouldn't just raise wages for minimum wage workers - its effects would lift wages for nearly 28 million Americans across this country. It will give businesses more customers with more money to spend, and grow the economy for everybody." The president also urged the American public to pressure their Congressional representative into voting for a bill, saying; "So call up your Member of Congress and let them know it's time for "ten-ten."
President Obama concluded his address discussing the meaning and central purpose of his economic opportunity program and that it includes helping all Americans reach the middle class. Obama expressed; "A true opportunity agenda is one that works for working women. Because when women succeed, America succeeds. We do better when everyone participates, and when everyone who works hard has the chance to get ahead. That's what opportunity means - and it's why I'll keep fighting to restore it."
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Rewarding Women's Hard Work and Increasing the Minimum Wage, March 22, 2014 -- Transcript | mp4 | mp3
- President Barack Obama's Remarks on Improving Economic Opportunity for Women and Working Families, March 20, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.