The White House has announced efforts to continue to address the country’s persistent problems with equal pay on the seven-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which provided more time for those experiencing pay inequality to file suit against their employers.
In addition to a call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Obama administration announced that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor will publish a proposal to collect data each year from businesses with more than 100 employees, summarizing pay based on gender, race, and ethnicity.
Pay inequality remains a problem in the United States. A 2014 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute found that men consistently made more than women across wage distributions. Although the gender wage gap has narrowed since the 1970s, when women were paid 59 percent of what men were for the same job, research suggests that women are still paid 79 cents for every man’s dollar.
The gap often only widens when race is taken into account—Hispanic and Latina women make 54 percent, American Indian and Alaska Native women make 59 percent, and Black women make 64 percent of what a white man does.
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But who among the field of 2016 presidential candidates is committed to changing that?
Hillary Clinton has long been a vocal proponent of ending gender pay inequality, having briefly touched on the subject during her 1995 Beijing address, where she famously declared that “women’s rights are human rights.”
While in the U.S. Senate, Clinton co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act itself and introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to address wage discrimination, in 2005, 2007, and 2009 after the legislation’s original sponsor, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), left Congress.
Clinton has come forward with several actions she claims could be taken to help address pay discrimination and inequality, such as an October proposal at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of penalizing workplaces that intimidate or retaliate against employees who discuss wages. Clinton also called for incentives for states to create tougher fair pay laws and for more federal legislation on the issue, according to the Huffington Post.
A Clinton campaign fact sheet notes that the Democratic presidential candidate proposes passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, raising wages for the lowest-paid jobs—disproportionately held by women—and establishing “workplace policies like paid leave and flexible scheduling that allow parents to take care of their obligations at home without sacrificing pay at work” in order to further address pay inequality.
However, Clinton has faced criticism after the Washington Free Beacon reported that Clinton did not pay her Senate staff members equally. Clinton’s campaign argued that the site relied on an “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate set of numbers” that did not take into account employees who did not work in the office for an entire fiscal year.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has been a strong proponent of equal pay efforts, frequently bringing up the topic on the campaign trail and explaining how it disproportionately impacts women of color.
Sanders applauded efforts to address wage inequality in a series of tweets honoring the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act’s anniversary, writing that doing so is “especially important for women of color who face a pay gulf, not a gap.”
Sanders included equal pay as a key component of his economic agenda.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley rounds out the Democratic presidential field with more support for ending the wage gap. In April 2014, O’Malley penned a blog post for the Huffington Post touting his record on the matter, which includes signing the Maryland Lilly Ledbetter Civil Rights Restoration Act and calling for more to be done to reach pay equality.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC’s Morning Joe in August that men and women deserve equal pay for equal work. Trump said he would conduct an economic review before implementing federal policies on pay equity, should he be elected.
“Women should have absolute access to capital,” Trump told hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. “If they do the same job, they should get the same pay.”
But by November, the controversial figure had dismissed the gender pay gap entirely, attributing pay disparities to performance differences during a convention in New Hampshire. Although he noted that he “respect[s] women incredibly,” he went on to blame women for the pay disparities they face, telling an audience member that “you’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has dismissed the need for equal pay measures, claiming that wage equality is already enforced in the law and that efforts to address the pay gap are nothing more than a political ploy by Democrats. “They’ve written these bills because they know that they won’t pass and they’re doing it just to score political points,” Cruz claimed in a 2014 interview on Fox News. “This has nothing to do with equal pay for equal work. That’s been the law for decades.”
Although he went on to agree that women still “have a long way to go” to achieve equality in the workplace, Cruz asserted that federal measures to address that shouldn’t move forward.
Cruz solidified his opposition to federal equal pay measures by voting to block the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been an outspoken opponent to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, claiming it is “nothing but an effort to help trial lawyers collect their fees and file lawsuits.”
When asked by a representative of Make It Work about pay inequality during a November campaign event, Rubio dismissed the need for such legislation, saying “it’s already illegal” for women to be paid differently than men.
After being pushed to answer for his Senate votes against the Paycheck Fairness Act, Rubio claimed that “all it really did is just help lawyers sue.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has consistently voted against equal pay legislation. Speaking about the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2012, Paul bizarrely claimed equal pay legislation was a step towards the United States becoming the Soviet Union.
“In the Soviet Union, the Politburo decided the price of bread, and they either had no bread or too much bread. So setting prices or wages by the government is always a bad idea,” Paul said. “The minute you set up a fairness czar to determine what wages are, you give away freedom.”
During an October appearance before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Gov. John Kasich faced questions about why women in his state still faced wage inequality. “Well, a lot of it is based on experience,” Kasich said, according to ThinkProgress. “A lot of different factors go into it. It’s all tied up in skills. Do you not have the skills to be able to compete?”
When pressed about whether he was suggesting that women were “less skilled” than men, Kasich denied the accusation and noted that he had women helping to run his presidential campaign.
Kasich this month acknowledged that the gender pay gap exists, but claimed family leave policies were hurting efforts to address it. “When women take maternity leave or time to be with the children, then what happens is they fall behind on the experience level, which means that the pay becomes a differential,” Kasich said, despite evidence that paid family leave policies could help fight against pay inequality.
An investigation conducted by Ohio’s Dayton Daily News in 2014 found that Kasich’s office had the highest gender pay gap among statewide officeholders, paying women an average of $9.81 less per hour than men, although Kasich’s office claimed the analysis didn’t take into account staff from other state agencies.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office in 2012 released a statement committing to taking action on equal pay and announcing that the governor had signed legislation “creating a statewide notice requirement for employers to directly and routinely advise their employees of the right to be free from pay and benefits discrimination.”
“Everyone in the workplace—whether the employer or employee—needs to be on notice that, as with all forms of bias, compensation discrimination due to gender is illegal and has no place in our modern workforce,” Christie’s statement said. “Too often, women’s value and contributions in the workplace have been undermined and shortchanged merely because of their gender. I fully endorse the Legislature’s efforts in this regard, and that is why I signed this sensible, preventative measure into law.”
Christie has since been less enthusiastic about pushing through related measures, vetoing two equal pay bills—one of which he claimed was just “senseless bureaucracy”—and signing another only after recommending changes be made to it.
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