Politics
President Barack Obama waves as he walks from Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, after returning from campaigning. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) President Barack Obama waves as he walks from Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, after returning from campaigning. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)  

Democrats focus on equal pay issue while Obama White House pays women less

Photo of David Martosko
David Martosko
Executive Editor

Government records show that despite the Democratic National Convention’s early focus on salary equality for women, President Barack Obama has consistently paid his own female staffers less than men who perform similar or identical duties.

The convention is Obama’s show, but Tuesday night in Charlotte belonged to Lilly Ledbetter. The failed lawsuit plaintiff whose name was ultimately attached to a wage parity law Obama signed in 2009 — the first bill to win his signature — addressed the convention, and at least five other speakers raised her signature issue. One was the president himself.

A video of Obama played in the convention hall at around 9:35 p.m. Tuesday, in which he observed that women in the U.S. workforce are “still earning just 77 cents for every dollar a man does.”

“Overall,” he said, “a woman with a college degree doing the same work as a man will earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less over the course of her career.”

Such a gender pay gap, he claimed, “weakens families; it weakens communities; it’s tough on our kids; it weakens our entire economy.”

But data from the Obama White House’s 2011 annual report show that female staffers there earn a median salary 18 percent lower than that of men.

And nearly four years ago, at the height of the 2008 election season, Scripps Howard syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock wrote that female staffers in Obama’s U.S. Senate office, too, were shortchanged.

“Obama’s average male employee earned $54,397,” Murdock determined from online Senate salary records. But the future president’s “30 female employees … [earned] $45,152, on average.”

By contrast, 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain paid his female staffers higher average salaries than his male employees at the time, with women earning an average of $55,878 and men taking home $53,936.

Some analysts have framed these disparities as an indication that Obama had fewer women in high-earning positions of authority than McCain did.

The Obama White House’s salary figures were first highlighted in April by the Washington Free Beacon.

In January 2012 ABC News published a fact-check analysis of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, three years after it became federal law.

“Women don’t enjoy equal pay,” ABC’s Devin Dwyer wrote for Good Morning America. “[I]t’s improved little during Obama’s term and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has hardly been a ‘big step’ toward the goal.”

Democrats addressing the convention on Tuesday, however, trumpeted the law’s passage as a singular achievement for the president.

“President Obama is … standing up for women in North Carolina and across our country,” North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said during an early evening speech. ”He has helped women fight for equal pay for equal work.”