Politics & Government

White House defends its own wage gap as Obama focuses on equal pay for women

White House in Washington D.C.
White House in Washington D.C. McClatchy

President Barack Obama will announce a pair of moves Tuesday that the White House says will help ensure that women are paid the same salary as men for doing the same job.

As part of his “pen and phone” initiatives, Obama will sign an executive order banning retaliation against federal contractors for disclosing their wages and direct the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on compensation paid to employees.

Advocates say the information will encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and help enforcement of discrimination.

The action comes on what activists call "Equal Pay Day" -- marking the extra time the average American woman must work into the year to earn as much as her average male counterpart did the previous year. The White House has maintained that for every dollar that men earn, women earn just 77 cents.

But before Obama announced the initiative, the White House was defending what some say is its own pay gap. A McClatchy review of White House salaries in January found that when the same calculations that produced the 77 cents was applied to the White House, the average female pay at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is less than the average male pay. When counted the same way that produced the 77-cent figure, the analysis found, women overall at the White House make 91 cents for every dollar men make. That’s an average salary of $84,082 for men and $76,516 for women.

But Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that men and women at the White House in equivalent roles earn equivalent salaries and said the studies “looked at the aggregate of everyone on staff, and that includes from the most junior levels to the most senior.”

“When it comes to the bottom line that women who do the same work as men have to be paid the same, there is no question that that is happening here at the White House at every level,” Carney said.

Obama’s action comes as the Senate is expected to vote to open debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act which the ACLU says would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and bar retaliation against workers who ask about their employers’ pay practices or inquire about their own wages. It would allow also women to receive the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is touting the issue, but Carney dismissed suggestions that the moves are politically motivated, aimed at shoring up support for endangered Senate Democrats.

“That's like saying the DSCC pushing the minimum wage or pushing any agenda item that they believe is important policy is about the midterm elections,” he said. “The actions the president's taking this week, the action that he supports, that the Democratic Senators are taking, reflect a commitment that he's held and proven his interest in from the very beginning of his time in office.”