Politics
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking from the White House in Washington March 17, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque) President Barack Obama pauses while speaking from the White House in Washington March 17, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)  

Bad data: Obama woos women with pay-gap pitch

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama had to defend his much-disputed claim that women are paid far less than men, putting a damper on a White House event originally designed to rally working women against the GOP in November.

“Sometimes when we discuss this issue of fair pay, [of] equal pay for equal work, and the pay gap between men and women, you’ll hear all sorts of excuses,” he told his mostly female audience.

“If they tell you there’s not a pay gap out there, you tell them, ‘Look at the data, there is,’” Obama insisted.

“It’s not a myth, it’s math,” he claimed. “You can look at the paychecks, you can look at the stubs,” he said at the event, where he signed directives that require federal contractors to provide pay-related data to the Department of Labor, and prohibits them from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their paychecks.

Obama’s defensiveness was likely prompted by numerous media reports showing that he pays his female staff 12 percent less overall than he pays his male staff, and by media reports showing the national pay gap is only one-quarter of the 23-point gap that he claims.

Most of the 23-point difference exists because men are more likely to seek higher-paying high-tech or dangerous jobs and jobs that require long hours or much travel. When those factors are included, the pay gap drops to about 6 percent.

Obama indirectly acknowledged the difference in jobs sought by men and women when he told his audience today that he wanted to “make it possible” for women to seek higher-paying high-tech jobs.

But at the White House, economic data is subordinate to political priorities, and Obama repeatedly insisted that the GOP’s policies are harmful to women.

Obama is pushing the pay-gap claim to portray the GOP as unfair to women, and to boost pro-Democratic turnout in November. That’s critical for Obama and his fellow Democrats, who need a large turnout of unmarried women — and especially among those with children — to offset the GOP’s advantage among married women.

He’s been pushing the theme for months.

“Women make up about half of our workforce, and more than half of our college graduates [and] more women are now their families’ main breadwinner than ever before,” Obama said in his March 22 weekly address.

“Our economy hasn’t caught up to this new reality yet,” he claimed. ”On average, a woman still earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man does… too many women face outdated workplace policies that hold them back — which in turn holds back our families and our entire economy,” he claimed.

He amped up the rhetoric at the April 8 event in the White House.

“Republicans [are] opposing any effort to level the playing field for working families,” Obama said.

By opposing an increase in the minimum wage, Republicans are “blocking a pay raise for tens of millions of Americans,” he said.

He also suggested that Republicans see women as inferior to men. “We don’t have second class citizens in this country,” he said.

The GOP’s draft budget for 2015 is based on “the vision that Congressional Republicans seem to be continually embracing, that you know, you’re just on your own, no matter how unfair.”

He urged women to pressure their legislators to back the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” which the Senate is expected to consider April 9.

“When women succeeds, America succeeds,” he said. “When women succeed, that’s true, I believe that, it’s true, it’s true, it’s true,” he said to applause from the Democratic activists at the White House event.

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