Obama’s New Proposal To Advance Equal Pay In America Could Ensure More Diversity & Gender Equality


In his first act as President of the United States, Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009. The Act was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and extended the manner in which the statute of limitations began, providing that each gender-unequal paycheck is a new violation of the law. It was certainly a very feminist way to start his first term, and the way things are going right now, it could be the way he ends his 2nd term.

There’s something to be said about a President who is willing to lead the way on social issues. Before we explain his latest efforts to close the gender gap, it is important to understand the history of the equal pay issue in America. It started with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which for the first time set standards regarding minimum wage, introduced the forty-hour work week, guaranteed time and a half pay for certain jobs, and prohibited the employment of minors in oppressive child labor. This was a very progressive law at the time and today we are still reaping the benefits of the statutes laid out.

Then in 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on gender. This played a major role in closing the gender gap to a certain degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s salaries have risen dramatically since the EPA’s enactment, from 62% of men’s earnings in 1979 to 80% in 2004.

Unfortunately, the Equal Pay Act’s goals have clearly not been completely achieved, and some of the most obvious reasons are because it did not originally cover executives, administrators, outside salespeople, and professionals. Fast forward to 2005, Hillary Clinton introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act which proposed legislation that would add procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Fair Labor Standards Act as part of an effort to address the gender pay gap.


This bill also built on previous acts because it specifically “punishes employers for retaliating against workers who share wage information, puts the justification burden on employers as to why someone is paid less and allows workers to sue for punitive damages of wage discrimination.” Another provision of the bill would start programs to train women in ways to better negotiate their wages.

Sadly, this bill has been voted down a total of three times in the House of Representatives, which is what brings us to President Obama’s current focus within the Lilly Ledbetter Act he signed in 2009. In an effort to advance equal pay, one of the actions the Obama administration is taking is to partner with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and and the Department of Labor to publish a proposal to annually collect summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees. The proposal would cover over 63 million employees.

They believe it will help focus public enforcement of our equal pay laws and provide better insight into discriminatory pay practices across industries and occupations. It expands on and replaces an earlier plan by the Department of Labor to collect similar information from federal contractors.

“While the gender pay gap has narrowed slightly over the past two years, there is much more work to be done to ensure fair pay for all. Today, the median wage of a woman working full-time year-round in the United States is about $39,600—only 79 percent of a man’s median earnings of $50,400,” says a statement from the White House.

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that the pay gap has indeed shrunk over the the past 30 years, but it still persists. Today the Dept. of Labor estimates women on average earn 77c to every $1 a man makes in the US as a median figure, but it would be amiss of us not to point out that there are a number of variables in this issue.

The number of hours worked, the salary amount negotiated, the types of occupations chosen typically by women vs men, full time vs part time work, and yes, straight up sexism or discrimination. Nevertheless, the fact that the pay gap still exists is reason enough to continue fighting to abolish it. A second action Obama is taking is to once again introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act in order to get it voted into law by both House democrats and republicans.

There has been a lot of discussion about the wage gap and many denials over its existence, but a recent story involving a major Silicon Valley company brought to light the harsh reality of discrimination based on gender or race. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, upon finding out women in his own company were not necessarily being compensated in the same manner as men for doing similar jobs, decided to undertake a company-wide audit to ensure the problem was addressed and women paid fairly.

Of course, not every company is going to have to address the wage gap in the same way, but the example of Marc Benioff at least acknowledging there was a problem and taking steps to correct was he thought was a massive oversight is what we need to see more of.

President Obama is looking at this issue long-term, and certainly hopes bringing in better laws that protect women from being discriminated against in the workforce will change the issue dramatically.

“The notion that somehow we would be keeping my daughters … or any of your daughters, out of opportunity, not allowing them to thrive in every field, not letting them fully participate in every human endeavor — that’s counterproductive. That’s not how we’re going to build a great future for our country,” he said in a statement to the press.


Along with the EEOC and Dept. of Labor partnership, and seeking once again to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, the White House will be holding a “United State of Women” summit in May that will “create an opportunity to mark the progress made on behalf of women and girls domestically and internationally over the course of this Administration and to discuss solutions to the challenges they still face.”

Change is indeed slow to happen, but clearly POTUS is not about to give up in the middle of a fight.

“There are times where you just have to chip away and chip away and suddenly there may be some breakthroughs, but it’s reliant on all of us to keep pushing that boulder up the hill,” he said.

His new proposal will expand to cover more than just government contractors, though it won’t make businesses disclose specific salaries of each employee. The first deadline to submit the data would be Sept. 30, 2017, after Obama leaves office, which means whoever moves into the White House come January 2017 could have a major impact on whether this is important or not. Here’s hoping it is the former.

“Women are not getting the fair shot we believe every single American deserves. What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?” he asked.

You can watch the full video briefing below, where he was joined by Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her employer after discovering she was making thousands of dollars less than her male counterparts at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and was ultimately shot down by the Supreme Court.


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