Obama honors women's equality on Equal Pay Day, but says pay equity still lacking

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the newly-designated Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Washington April 12, 2016. © Kevin Lamarque
President Barack Obama marked Equal Pay Day in the US by designating as an historic site a building that played a integral role in the nation's women's suffrage movement. Meanwhile, some aspects of the US gender gap remain some of the world's worst.

Obama honored the women's suffrage movement in the US by declaring national-monument status for the Sewall-Belmont House – soon to be known as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument – which has been a headquarters for the National Women's Party since 1929, the White House said in a statement.

Highlighting that the first piece of legislation – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – that he signed as president addressed the gender pay gap in the US, President Obama said at the dedication ceremony that the goal of such parity is "one where we still fall short.

"Today, the typical woman who works full-time earns 79 cents for every dollar a typical man makes," Obama said at the event. "The gap is even wider for women of color. The typical black woman only makes 60 cents, a Latino woman, 55 cents, for every dollar a white man earns. If we truly value fairness, then America should be a level playing field where everyone who works hard get a chance to succeed. That's good for America."

"I'm here to say we will close the wage gap," Obama added.

In January, Obama announced a new proposal that will demand US 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, with the aim of expanding a 2014 rule that called for collection of the same data from federal contractors.

At the time of the announcement, Obama said his administration would push for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would offer more resources to women seeking to challenge pay discrimination.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act, meanwhile, 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.

While the Obama administration continues to tout its work in closing the gender pay gap, other indicators suggest the US is lagging in its commitment to equality. The US is one of seven members of the United Nations, including Iran and Somalia, that have not ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, otherwise known as the "international bill of rights for women.

The US was ranked 20th overall in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2014, while ranking 62nd in the 'Health and Survival' category and 54th for 'Political Empowerment.' The report ranked the US as 65th of 142 nations for wage equality.

Only 19 percent of Congress is female – despite females accounting for 51 percent of the population – which ranks 72nd for women parliamentarians among global governments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

A 2014 report by the UN's International Labor Organization found that the US is one of three countries, including Oman and Papua New Guinea, that does not offer a monetary supplement to new mothers on maternity leave from their jobs. The US also offers new mothers fewer weeks of maternity leave than any other Western country, the study found.

“There is a myth that women already enjoy all these rights and protections under US law,” a UN working group on discrimination against women said in December. The group cited that in addition to wage inequality, obstacles for women in the US include access to general and reproductive health care, a dearth of comprehensive sexual education, and lack of safety from many types of violence.

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. Using a metric called the controlled gender pay gap, Payscale found in a recent report 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.