By FATIMA HUSSEIN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day by highlighting new steps aimed at closing the gender pay gap for federal employees and contractors. And he urged private companies to do the same.
Biden signed an Equal Pay Day executive order that encourages — but does not direct — the government to consider banning federal contractors from seeking information about the past salary history of job applicants. The Department of Labor has also issued a guideline aimed at strengthening federal contractors’ responsibilities to audit payslips to avoid pay differentials based on gender, race or ethnicity.
“I hope it sets an example for all private companies as well,” Biden said after signing the executive order. “Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. It benefits everyone.”
The Office of Human Resources has been directed to consider an ordinance to regulate the use of past salary histories in hiring and determining compensation for federal employees.
Equal Pay Day aims to draw attention to how long women have to work to earn what men earn.
The data shows that while the pay gap is at an all-time low, the coronavirus pandemic has altered women’s labor force participation in a way that “what we’re seeing is an artificial narrowing,” said Jasmine Tucker, research director at the National Women’s Law Center .
For example, women who remained employed and worked full-time during the pandemic often had higher incomes than their counterparts who lost low-paying jobs, so the 2020 numbers shouldn’t be compared to the wage gap data from previous years, Tucker said.
The cloud of the pandemic cast a shadow over this year’s Equal Pay Day events at the White House – which included speeches by prominent activists and a well-known Biden administration waiver for workers to join unions.
“Over the past two years, the pandemic has only deepened these inequalities as care is more expensive and harder to find,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at an afternoon event.
“In a 40-year career, a woman loses about $400,000. For Black women, Latina women, Native American women, that wage drop is closer to $1 million,” Harris said.
The Equal Pay Day White House Summit was attended by Cabinet members, corporate executives and players from the US women’s soccer team, which recently reached a $24 million settlement with US Soccer in a discrimination dispute.
The settlement includes a commitment to equalize salaries and bonuses for the men’s team.
Star midfielder Megan Rapinoe said the team’s high-profile victory could resonate particularly with union workers fighting together for equal rights at work.
“I think the more we connect our stories, the more we connect to each other, literally,” she said, “when I see myself in union workers in Alabama and they see themselves in us or our team, it’s all kind of the same thing, because we’re all dealing with the same problem.”
Among other things, the Biden administration wants to combat occupational segregation in order to give women better access to well-paid jobs that are more likely to be dominated by men.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said efforts to ensure fair pay would have a major impact on the economy, as “some research suggests that working women’s poverty would be cut in half if women were given a fair paycheck”.
Last October, the government released a national equality strategy to promote the full participation of women and girls in society.
Tucker said there is still a long way to go to achieve equal pay — especially after the pandemic.
In February 2022, over 1.1 million women were less employed than in February 2020, meaning they are neither working nor looking for a job.
“There was a particular downsizing among low-paid workers, and what was left were middle- and upper-income workers isolated from the pandemic,” Tucker said.
In 2020, the average woman working full-time year-round earned 83 cents on the dollar compared to a male colleague doing the same job, according to the White House. The gap is even wider for Black and Native American women and Latinas.
The issue also affects women in later life. A 2020 Brookings Institution study of women’s retirement found that women’s Social Security benefits are, on average, 80% of those for men.
Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.
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