Skip to Content

Obama’s Efforts to Close the Gender Pay Gap Have Had Very Few Results

President Obama To Sign Order On Pay EqualityPresident Obama To Sign Order On Pay Equality
U.S. President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order and a Presidential Memorandum at an event marking Equal Pay Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

When it comes to closing the gender pay gap, we can at least give President Barack Obama an A for effort. He keeps introducing efforts aimed at addressing the issue, even in the absence of stellar results.

On Friday, his administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced plans to start collecting pay data from companies with 100 employees or more in an effort to cut down on pay disparities between men and women.

It’s one of a series of steps the president has taken during his seven years in office to shrink the gap between men’s and women’s salaries.

Let’s review:

In January 2009, President Obama signed his very first piece of legislation—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which made it easier for employees to sue for wage discrimination.

The next year, he established the Equal Pay Task Force, which aimed to bring together representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Justice Department, the Labor Department, and the Office of Personnel Management to combat pay discrimination in the workplace

In early April 2014, Obama signed an executive order banning companies that contract with the federal government from retaliating against employees who openly discuss their compensation. The idea was that conversations about pay would be a tool for workers—especially women—to flag violations of equal pay laws.

That same day the president signed a memorandum instructing the Labor Secretary to write new rules requiring federal contractors to turn over data on worker compensation, including stats filtered by sex and race. That too was aimed at encouraging compliance with equal pay laws and making enforcement of the violators more effective.

The president has repeatedly urged federal lawmakers to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would let women sue for punitive damages in cases of pay discrimination. The bill has been introduced several times but hasn’t gained much traction in Congress. He’s also supported women-friendly policies like the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and paid leave programs at the state-level.

President Obama’s mostly unilateral action on the gender pay gap hasn’t gone over well with Republicans. The Republican National Committee, for instance, said Obama’s executive order in April 2014 didn’t address the fact that women and men are concentrated in different professions and are therefore compensated differently.

And the president’s efforts also haven’t produced any drastic results.

In addressing the new White House initiatives on Thursday, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, called the pay gap between men and women in the workforce a “stubborn” issue. And she’s right. Since 2009, it’s barely budged. Women currently earn a median wage of $39,600 per yearjust 79% of a man’s median annual earnings. That means over the course of Obama’s presidency, the wage gap has shrunk by two cents.