Women and men came out in force Tuesday in Illinois, Vermont, Colorado and Michigan to mark Equal Pay Day 2012 with the aim of bringing the issue of women's equality in the workforce to the forefront of the national debate.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration set out to prove to women voters it was a champion for women's issues writ large.
"From the very beginning of his administration, President Obama has worked to ensure that women are paid fairly for their work," a White House statement said. "The President is committed to securing equal pay for equal work because it's a matter of fair play, and because American families and the health of our nation's economy depends on it."
The statement was backed up by a report from the White House's Equal Pay Task Force on improvements made to women's standard of living and workforce equality.
"Since the creation of the President's Equal Pay Task Force in January 2010, the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] has recovered more than $62.5 million in monetary relief through administrative enforcement for victims of sex-based wage discrimination," the report, "Fighting for Fair Pay in the Workplace," stated.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration made the issue of the pay gap a part of the national discourse. President Obama mentioned recent findings that women make 77 cents on the dollars compared with men even though the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law by John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago.
The figure the President mentioned was based on the pay gap, a number calculated by aggregating numbers from the census and Departments of Education and Labor, takes the median annual salary for a woman and divides it by the same for a man. This number in 2010 was 77% - women across the U.S. made $36,931 on average compared to men's $47,715.
To combat this discrepancy, President Obama is urging Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for individuals who are the targets of wage discrimination to bring legal suits against their employers. Some Republicans have said the act would only serve to flood the legal system with frivolous suits.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney's campaign recently stumbled when it came to an equal-pay for women law, with campaign surrogates unable to say whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.
After three days of questions from the media, the Romney campaign released a statement saying, "Gov. Romney supports pay equity," without directly mentioning the act itself.
In Chicago, supporters of equal pay rallied at the Daley Center to call attention to gender discrimination in the workplace. Understandably, the pay gap differs by state. Women in Illinois make one cent less than the national average than their male counterparts (76 cents on the dollar).
Washington, DC boasted the smallest pay gap at 91 percent and Vermont came in at a distance second at 84 percent. Wyoming held the bottom position at 64 percent, where men made nearly $48,000 annually versus women's $37,000.
The gap also differs based on what demographics, age groups and education levels are considered. African-American and Hispanic men and women have the lowest pay gap between them, at 91 percent for each group, but compare a Latina's annual salary to a white males and the number dips to 61 percent.
Education is also a factor, with the smallest pay gap present between men and women with less than a high school degree or a doctorate, both at 80 percent. Women with professional degrees make the least when compared with their male counterparts, dipping below the national average to 72 cents on the dollars.
The Obama administration has made the argument that these pay discrepancies not only affect women's quality of life but also the families they support.
Thirty-four percent of women in the workforce are the sole breadwinners for their family, which means "the gender pay gap can contribute to poor living conditions, poor nutrition, and fewer opportunities for their children," according to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) based on a U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee review done in 2010.
Although some of the pay gap can be explained by differences in work women choose versus men (more women choose to be teachers, who receive less pay), the AAUW says "not all of the gap could be 'explained away.' After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, [and a host of other factors], a 12 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates ten years after graduation was still unexplained."
On the Republican side, presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney has come out in recent days in support of working and non-working mothers with his "Mom's Drive the Economy Campaign."
Mothers of all background rallied behind Romney's wife Ann last week after a Democratic strategist stated the wife and mother of five "never worked a day in her life" while on CNN.
A recent CNN/ORC International poll showed women voters back Obama over Romney 55 percent to 39 percent. Going ahead, both campaigns will continue to vie for female voters in the hopes of swinging the election in their favor.
by RTT Staff Writer
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