White House Meeting To Examine Women's Pay

President Obama is expected to meet on Wednesday with female members of Congress. There are reasons for the president's focus on women that involve both policy and politics.

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For every dollar men earn working full-time over the course of a year, women will, on average, be paid just 77 cents. That's according to the White House, and it's just one of the economic issues President Obama's expected to discuss today with female members of Congress.

As NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, the president's focus here involves both policy and politics.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: During President Obama's State of the Union Address, pollsters had groups of voters watch the speech and turn dials to indicate whether they liked a line or didn't. And one section was off the charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This year, let's all come together - Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street - to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I believe that when women succeed, America succeeds.

KEITH: Democrats, Republicans, women, single women, they all turned their dials in support.

BETSEY STEVENSON: It's because it's part of everyone's life.

KEITH: Betsey Stevenson is a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. She says men and women with professional degrees start out in their 20s with very similar salaries. But over time, the men begin making significantly more money than the women.

STEVENSON: As they get to their mid-30s, it starts growing. By the time they hit 40s, there's a huge gender wage gap.

KEITH: Women entering the workforce today are more educated than men. They are highly skilled. Their wages are increasingly important to their families' livelihoods, and yet they make less. This is, in part, a result of a working world designed in a different era.

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: The days of June Cleaver are gone. Only two families out of 10 today have one parent working and one parent staying at home.

KEITH: Kirstin Gillibrand is a Democratic senator from New York, and will be at the White House meeting today.

GILLIBRAND: We have to reflect the realities of our workforce if we want to ever tap into the full potential of our economy. And that just makes sense, common sense.

KEITH: Democrats want to address these issues with a higher minimum wage, an equal pay bill, paid family leave, and more help with childcare. But congressional action is unlikely.

Susan Carroll is at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. She says Democrats have a reason to keep the conversation going.

SUSAN CARROLL: There's no question that there's politics involved in the debate over this, and the fact that the Democrats are pushing this issue at this particular time is a way to gain advantage in the election. But there are real economic consequences at stake.

KEITH: Let's go back to those public opinion dials. Talking about these issues polls well with women, especially single women, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but who turn out in lower numbers for off-year elections. If Democrats are going to have a shot in 2014, they're going to have to motivate those women. Republicans are increasingly going after these voters, as well.

Katie Packer Gage is a Republican political consultant.

KATIE PACKER GAGE: And certainly the Democrats haven't cornered the market on that. Republicans are also very interested in seeing, you know, women have good jobs and have good experiences in the workplace.

KEITH: She argues the Obama administration is looking for a distraction from the health care law. House Republicans say they plan to take up bills aimed at economic issues affecting everyone, including women.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress.

REPRESENTATIVE CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: Looking at what we can be doing to improve outcomes - get higher-paying jobs, better paying jobs, higher skills - that definitely is our priority.

KEITH: Neither McMorris Rodgers nor any other Republican lawmakers will be at today's White House meeting. There, administration officials say the president will announce a June 23rd summit on working families.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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