President Obama announces rules for closing gender pay gap

Obama Makes New Push for Equal Pay for Women
Obama Makes New Push for Equal Pay for Women

In his final year in office, President Barack Obama is returning to an issue that was at the heart of the first piece of legislation he ever signed at the White House: closing the gender pay gap.

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Obama on Friday unveiled new rules that would compel companies with more than 100 workers to provide the federal government annual data for how much they pay employees based on gender, race and ethnicity.

That information would be used to help public enforcement of equal pay laws while giving more insight into discriminatory pay practices, he said from the White House.

Historically, full-time female workers have only been paid a fraction of their male counterparts: In 2014, it was 79 cents for every dollar, according to the latest White House brief.

"What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?" Obama asked.

The proposal would cover more than 63 million employees — potentially providing a new wealth of data for understanding the pay gap issue and determining whether certain workers are getting short-changed.

See photos from Obama's address:

In addition, Obama renewed his call to Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would potentially close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and require employers to prove that pay gaps are due to legitimate business reasons, not discrimination.

The president also said the White House in May will host a summit — "The United State of Women" — to examine gender equality in America.

"The notion that we would somehow be keeping my daughters ... any of your daughters out of opportunity, not allowing them to thrive in any field, not allowing them to fully participate in every human endeavor, that's counterproductive," Obama said.

The president's announcement Friday comes on the seventh anniversary of his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which aims to close the gender pay gap by making it easier for employees to sue for pay discrimination.

The new rules come as Obama has had to use his executive powers — which he has been criticized by Republicans for doing often during his presidency — as he looks to shore up his legacy as a champion of civil rights and progressive principles.

He most recently used executive actions on his plan to tighten federal gun laws and granting temporary amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants.

"I don't think this is an empty move," Robyn Muncy, interim chair of women's studies and a history professor at the University of Maryland, said of the new pay data proposal. "I think it can have a very galvanizing, conscious-raising effect on people."

Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University, said gender inequality and fair pay became a marquee issue during the presidential election four years ago, so it's not surprising that Obama would wind down his term talking about it again.

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"One thing that is very clear is that (Obama's) being consistent with how he's looked at this issue," Gillespie said. "So the idea that he is doing this at the end of his presidency and doing this in the name of achieving equal pay for women, it speaks to his legacy."

She added that it gives his potential Democratic successor, Hillary Clinton, the opportunity to pick up the cause as the first female U.S. president.

Ledbetter, whose name is on the legislation Obama signed on Jan. 29, 2009, said in an essay Thursday that she's backing Clinton's run for the White House. Ledbetter's case became a cause celebre after she sued Goodyear Tire company after learning she was paid less than her male colleagues.

"President Obama has not rested on his Ledbetter laurels," Ledbetter joked at the announcement Friday before announcing the president.

"I know we'll always have a powerful ally in President Obama," she said, adding that "we owe it to our daughters, our granddaughters and ourselves" to ensure the pay gap issue isn't forgotten.

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