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

David Martosko Executive Editor
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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.”

First lady Michelle Obama bookended the conversation late at night. Her husband, she said from the podium, is “thinking about the pride that comes from a hard day’s work. That’s why he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work.”

Obama has “worked to guarantee women equal pay for equal work and the freedom to make our own decisions about our health,” added Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president’s sister, in her tag-team speech with Craig Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s brother.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick echoed the chorus by praising Obama as “the president who ended ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ so that love of country, not love of another, determines fitness for military service — who made equal pay for equal work the law of the land.”

Ledbetter appeared on stage to personally tell the story of how she lost her Supreme Court case because she didn’t file her wage discrimination suit soon enough.

“We sought justice,” Ledbetter said, “because equal pay for equal work is an American value. … [W]ith President Obama on our side, even though I lost before the Supreme Court, we won. The first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I think it says something about his priorities that the first bill he put his name on has my name on it too.”

Yet in January, Ledbetter told ABC News that the Act bearing her name “might not be such an important bill. … We, per se, did not gain anything except putting [the law] back to where it was before the ruling in my case.”

During an April 16, 2012 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Romney said he has no intention of revisiting the Ledbetter Act if he becomes president.

“I certainly support equal pay for women and — and have no intention of changing that law, don’t think there’s a reason to,” he said.

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