Equal Pay, But Maybe Not For You

Acts of Labor
AP President Obama with Lilly Ledbetter in 2009

President Barack Obama marked Equal Pay Day on Tuesday by signing two executive orders that address the bald fact that women still make 77 cents on every dollar that a man earns, more than 50 years after that became illegal.

So, problem solved? Well, no.

These orders probably won't do much for you, or for most of the rest of us.

Despite his opponents' claims that President Obama is running amok in the White House, his powers to act alone, without the authorization of Congress, are pretty limited.

So, the orders he signed Tuesday, with considerable fanfare, are more than symbolic but less than revolutionary:

  • Federal contractors are now barred from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries with others.

  • The Labor Department will collect statistics from federal contractors on the salaries they pay to male and female employees.

The president called on Congress to take more wide-reaching action. The chances of that happening are slim to zilch.

But the executive orders are a start. Millions of Americans work for companies that provide goods and services to the federal government, whether they work in hospitals, on chicken farms or in the factories of tire manufacturers.

Lilly, For Instance

Lilly Ledbetter, whose name adorns the first-ever executive order signed by President Obama, was on hand again Tuesday for his latest, and as it turns out these latest orders are as relevant to her as the first was.

Ledbetter found out only after years on the job that she earned less than her male peers at a Goodyear Tire factory, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that her discrimination suit was filed beyond the statute of limitations. That first executive order extended the deadline for such suits.

The latest executive orders address the same problem with a different tactic. If her company had been unable to prevent employees from discussing their pay, Ledbetter might have discovered the inequity years earlier. And, if companies must disclose their pay rates to the government, they have a financial incentive for obeying the equal pay law.

Why would anyone need an incentive to obey a law that has been in place for 51 years?

It's complicated.

Who Makes What at the White House

This week, President Obama is being raked over the coals by opponents who have accused him of hypocrisy, based on an analysis that shows that women who work in the White House make 88 cents to each dollar paid a man.

True, except, as President Obama usually makes certain to add, we're talking about equal pay "for the same job." There are more women than men in lower-paid jobs in the White House, so their overall average pay is lower.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell makes the same salary, $199,700, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. But both make more money than an assistant secretary.

And, 10 of 16 White House department heads, earning $172,200, are women. Sixteen cabinet-level positions are held by men, while 7 are held by women.

Now they just have to explain why more men than women overall hold higher-paid positions in the White House.

As the White House's own Fact Sheet points out, the problem of unequal pay is exacerbated by the concentration of women in the jobs with lower pay scales, regardless of gender.

Maybe it's complicated after all.

> Find a job at Tires Plus or at Goodyear Tire as an engineering manager

Lilly Ledbetter: Equal Pay For Equal Work
Lilly Ledbetter: Equal Pay For Equal Work