White House

How does Obama stack up on women’s pay himself?

President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security team, FBI Director Robert Mueller; Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and others,  to the Boston bombings investigation, April 19, 2013
President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security team, FBI Director Robert Mueller; Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and others, to the Boston bombings investigation, April 19, 2013 MCT

President Barack Obama calls it “wrong” and an “embarrassment” that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, saying women deserve equal pay for equal work.

“At a time when women make up about half of the workforce, but still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns – we’ve got to finish the job and give women the tools they need to fight for equal pay,” Obama said Wednesday in Maryland, calling for an end to “workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.” His remarks echoed what he said the night before in his State of the Union address, and which he’s said before, always to applause.

But a McClatchy review of White House salaries shows that when the same calculations that produced the 77 cents is 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.

Asked about its own payroll, the White House said Wednesday that it should be measured by how it pays men and women in the same jobs, but not the kind of broad brush that compares overall male and female pay.

White House aides said that overwhelmingly, the president’s employees with the same position make the same money: all press assistants make $42,000 regardless of gender; most presidential assistants, including Press Secretary Jay Carney and Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, make $172,200.

The 77-cent figure – which Obama used on the campaign trail in 2012 – stems from a 2011 report by the U.S. Census Bureau that found that in 2010, females overall made 77 percent of what males made. That means all workers regardless of what jobs they hold – not one worker in one particular job compared with another worker in the same job.

Obama didn’t make the distinction in his State of the Union speech or in remarks Wednesday as he celebrated the fifth anniversary of the first bill he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which he said helps protect a woman’s right to fair pay.

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.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said equal pay legislation calls for equal pay for equal work.

“That’s what we have at the White House,” he said. “Men and women in equivalent roles earn equivalent salaries.”

He noted two deputy chiefs of staff – one man and one woman – make the same salary. And he said 16 department heads – over half of whom are women – make the same salary.

The Republican National Committee noted the disparity in Obama’s remarks, pointing to a 2013 American Enterprise Institute study that found a pay gap of 13 percent, using the same White House data that McClatchy used. The data, which the White House has been required to deliver to Congress since 1995, includes the title and salary of every White House Office employee. It includes more than 400 employees, including administration officials who work at the Office of Policy Development, including the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council – along with White House Office employees.

“It’s interesting, though, that for all his talk, President Obama allows his White House to pay women less than men,” wrote Sarah Isgur Flores, the RNC’s deputy communications director. “Last night, President Obama told Congress, ‘Women deserve equal pay for equal work,’ and then he headed back to the White House where women don’t receive equal pay.”

Anne York, who studies gender equality in the workplace as an associate professor at Meredith College School of Business in Raleigh, N.C., 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.

“We have no definitive answers, but a lot of reasons,” York said. Whether by tradition or personal choice, women often seek lower-paying occupations than men – say, home health aide vs. neurosurgeon – and often trade earnings for flexibility at work, York said.

“We’re past the days of blatant discrimination, we’re past the ‘Mad Men’ days, but we’re not there yet,” York said.

Some studies show that pay for men and women in their 20s is at parity, Young said, but that gaps emerge as women move into motherhood.

“Companies aren’t off the hook that make it difficult for anyone to have work-life balance,” she said. “But there’s a lot of societal views that are still influential.”

Daniel White and Danny Dougherty of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.