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Equal Pay for Equal Work

Today, we marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act with an event at the White House.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act

President Barack Obama delivers remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, in the East Room of the White House, June 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, we marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act with an event at the White House hosted by President Obama, the release of an important report from the National Equal Pay Task Force on the last fifty years since the Act was signed, a new web page with resources and information for women to make sure they’re paid equally, and a new video that gives an overview of our progress in equal pay.

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, a milestone piece of legislation that requires men and women receive equal pay for equal work. However, fifty years later, women are still only earning approximately 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, and even less for women of color, so we are far from ready to declare victory.

To mark today’s anniversary, President Obama spoke at the event attended by leaders in the government, private sector and civil society who are all committed to  building a 21st century workplace.

The CEO of Deloitte LLP, Joe Echevarria, introduced the President and told his story of how he grew up in a poor neighborhood, started working at Deloitte, and realized that he was being paid less than his colleagues. The only difference seemed to be their backgrounds. This experience greatly influenced his views on equality in the workplace.  He said, “This isn’t just good for economic justice. It’s good for our companies. Because when you pay based on performance, when you pair fairly, when you pay on merit, you get better people. You do – and that’s good for business and our economy.”

In his remarks that followed, President Obama made it clear that we need to build a strong 21st century workplace that includes equal pay for equal work, ensures workers are not treated unfairly because of their family responsibilities, and that helps women and men balance their work and home obligations.

Obviously, these policies have a big impact. The President’s Council of Economic Advisers has reported that while more women have begun working over the past half century, that number has recently begun to fall—one reason being that workplace flexibility policies have not yet adjusted to the growth of women in the workforce, and the changing dynamic at home, and at work, that accompanies such growth.

To address this and more, President Obama called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and raise the minimum wage.  He spoke about using technology, such as creating apps through the Equal Pay App Challenge, to find innovative ways to bridge the gap, and challenged us all to do more, including ensuring that the federal government lead by example by closing our pay gap.

We also released the Equal Pay Task Force report: “Fifty Years after the Equal Pay Act: Assessing the Past, Taking Stock of the Future.”

In 2010, President Obama created the National Equal Pay Task Force, which is comprised of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management, to identify and address challenges to gender pay disparities.

In addition to information on the pay disparities, today’s report includes a summary of advances that have been made over the past fifty years. It also notes where we still have work to do. For example:

  • The Council of Economic Advisers notes that if we boosted adult women’s hourly wages by 10 percent, we would lift over 1 million individuals out of poverty—including more than half a million children.
  • According to an analysis by the Department of Labor’s Chief Economist, by age 25, the average young woman working full time would have already earned $5,000 less over the course of her working career than the average 25‐year old man. If that earnings gap is not corrected, by age 65, she will have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over her working lifetime.
  • Women make up nearly half the workforce and increasingly are the primary breadwinners. Yet they are, on average, bringing home 23 percent less than men—meaning less food on the table, less savings, and less support for their families and children. This makes equal pay not only a women’s issue, but a family issue, and a societal issue.

As President Obama said, “I want every child to grow up knowing that a woman’s hard work is valued and rewarded just as much as any man’s.”

So together, let’s create a future where our daughters’ work is valued as much as our sons’.

Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls.