WH: We’re not the ‘perfect example’ on pay equity

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 2, 2014 

The White House in Washington D.C.

TISH WELLS — McClatchy

President Barack Obama frequently hammers Republicans for not supporting measures that he says would ensure equal pay for men and women, calling it an “embarrassment” that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

But White House salaries aren’t equal by that standard either, according to new salary figures published this week on the White House website. A McClatchy review earlier this year found that when the same calculations that produced the 77 cents is applied to the White House, women overall at the White House make 91 cents for every dollar men make.

Pressed repeatedly on the matter, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House was paying “appreciably better than the country is more broadly, but we still have more work to do.”

The White House has countered that men and women at the White House in the same jobs, make the same salaries. But that’s not the argument it makes in pressing for the legislation. The White House has supported a Democratic-sponsored Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require businesses to show that wage discrepancies between men and women are not based on gender. It also bans retaliation against workers who reveal their wages. Republicans have opposed it as a show vote aimed at making them look anti-women.

“There are a variety of metrics that can be consulted to evaluate whether or not equal work leads to equal pay,” Earnest said. “I think you could use that statistic to indicate that the White House has some improvement to make along that measure. But if you consider other measures, like at the White House that people who have the same title make the same amount, and that essentially they get equal pay for equal work, there's no question that that's the case.”

Economists have said the 77-cent pay disparity figure masks a variety of factors as to why women – on average – don’t make as much as men. Earnest, though, would not concede that 100 percent may be not be possible through legislation -- even as reporters pressed him about the fact that although it’s a “signature issue” for Obama, he’s still failed in six years to bring his own staff into alignment.

He called it a “difficult policy challenge” because of a variety of influences that contributes to the issue, but noted that the first bill Obama’s signed when he took office was a fair pay act and that he’d keep pressing for the paycheck fairness act.

“The White House is doing significantly better than the private sector is,” he said. “And we're encouraging the private sector to get better. We're certainly going to make some efforts here at the White House to improve on our standing. I wouldn't hold up the White House as the perfect example here, but we are an example of an organization that is making an effort and enjoying some success in making sure that there are women who get equal pay for equal work and women who have an opportunity to advance their careers here at the White House. And I think our record, when judged by that standard, holds up very, very well.”

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