Obama unveils new rules aimed at gender wage gap

U.S. President Barack Obama © Kevin Lamarque
President Barack Obama announced a new round of actions aimed at advancing equal pay for all American workers regardless of gender, race, and ethnicity. A new rule will require many US companies to report pay data.

Chief among the actions announced Friday is a new proposal that will demand businesses of 100 or more employees to publish annual summaries of pay data sorted by gender, race, and ethnicity. The rule would include 63 million employees across the nation, according to the White House.

The purpose of the proposal is to "help focus public enforcement of our equal pay laws and provide better insight into discriminatory pay practices across industries and occupations," the White House said in a statement.

"The notion that somehow we would be keeping my daughters… or any of your daughters out of opportunities, not allowing them to thrive in every field… that's counterproductive. That's not how we're going to build a positive future in this country," Obama said.

The rule is an extension of a April 2014 Presidential Memorandum that called for collection of the same data from federal contractors. The new proposal, published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), will apply to all businesses in the country, not just those contracted by the federal government.

The pay data will be included on a form that businesses are already required to file with the EEOC; that form currently includes an employee's sex and age.

Complying with the new rule will cost less than $400 for each employer in the first year, the White House estimated, and several hundred dollars annually in subsequent years.

In addition to the reporting rule, Obama intends to push for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would offer more resources to women seeking to challenge pay discrimination. The median wage of a full-time female employee is about 79 percent of male counterparts, the White House reported.

Friday's announcement was timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation signed by Obama upon taking office in 2009. The law amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include more opportunities for an employee to file an unfair pay complaint on grounds of alleged discrimination based on gender, race, age, or disability.

The rule change requires employers to submit pay data by September 30, 2017.

The White House's pay gap logic is not celebrated by all, as opponents claim the metric by which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics bases its data is not the most accurate measurement.

A new report by Payscale posits that "men are simply more likely to hold higher-paying jobs, whether it's because of the industry, job type, or job level." Using a metric called the controlled gender pay gap, Payscale found that women are earning 2.7 percent less than men "with similar characteristics working the same jobs," as opposed to a 25.6-percent uncontrolled gender pay gap – calculated by analyzing the average earnings of all working men and all working women regardless of additional factors. The latter is used by the federal government to tally pay discrepancies, Payscale said.

While the report says that the controlled pay gap is still "disturbing," what is "even more disturbing is that when we run the numbers to find out how things like marital and family status, job level, job type, industry, location, education and more affect gender pay equity, we see that the pay gap widens as you climb the corporate ladder, that men get promoted faster than women, and that women report more negative feelings about job satisfaction, job stress, and communication with their employers."

However, Pew Research reported in April that it also found the gender pay gap to be less than the White House's claims. Women earn 84 percent of what men earn, Pew said, while claiming the wage gap for younger women is even lower, at 93 percent.

Obama's Friday announcement also included details on a summit, to be held on May 23, called “The United State of Women." The summit is designed to trumpet gains made on behalf of females in the US and beyond, as well as "to discuss solutions to the challenges they still face."

Coinciding with the announcement, the White House Council of Economic Advisers has released an issue brief – “The Gender Pay Gap on the Anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" – which explores the issue of unequal pay in America. According to the Council, the US gender wage gap is 2.5 percent higher than the average industrialized nation.

Gender pay disparity has been in the headlines again after recent comments from actress Gillian Anderson, star of the rebooted 'X-Files' series. Anderson revealed that,  during the show's original run in the 1990s, she had to fight to receive pay comparable to that of her male co-star David Duchovny. When she was proposed to star in a new series, which began this month, Fox Broadcasting Company offered her less than Duchovny once again.

"It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly. I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it," Anderson told the Daily Beast.