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#ObamaTownHall: What Will It Take to Close the Gender Wage Gap?


Yesterday, President Obama participated in a Town Hall in Charlotte, North Carolina. Moderated by BlogHer co-founder and SheKnows Chief Community Officer Lisa Stone, the Town Hall focused on issues affecting women in the workplace, including the gender wage gap, discrimination, and access to affordable child care.

Barack Obama 

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Participants asked questions in person, via survey, and on Twitter. Here are a few of the highlights from the session:

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Why Do We Still Have a Gender Wage Gap?

“The main breadwinner in our entire family was my grandmother,” President Obama said. “I’ve got two daughters and I expect them to be treated the same as someone’s sons on the job.”

The president noted that Congressional Republicans have largely opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to close the 23-cent gap between male and female earnings. (The White House uses figures that estimate a 22 cent gap, and notes that this discrepancy in earnings could cost women $420,000 in earnings over the course of their lifetimes.)

“It’s really just a matter of convincing a number of Republicans that they have daughters too, they have spouses,” he added.

PayScale’s research on the gender wage gap shows a smaller difference between the earnings of men and women who work similar hours, in similar industries – but highlights the fact that women are often largely absent from higher-paying executive roles.

Why are women underrepresented at the top? The answer is complex. Sometimes, it’s because they run up against the glass ceiling, as Obama’s grandmother did, and sometimes it’s because they opt out of higher-paying jobs that offer less flexibility. The reasons for that are pretty obvious, and have everything to do with the lack of systemic support for working families with children in this country. 

The High Cost of Child Care

In parts of the US, child care costs more than many working mothers can earn; in 20 states, average annual child care expenditures top $10,000, according to The Boston Globe. That’s cost-prohibitive for many working people, but especially hard for families who make less money. A mom who earns minimum wage, for example, might find it financially smarter to stay home with her child, regardless of her preferences – even though not working might drop her family below the poverty line.

At the Town Hall, one single mother stood up to ask President Obama how he would help her and other working parents who are struggling to pay for child care.

“Well, now, this was not a plant, but it so happens,” the president said, as the audience laughed, “that we’re actually proposing as part of my budget package to triple the child credit, which would translate to potentially an additional $900 a year for child care. …So at the federal level at least, this should be one of our top budget priorities.”

Improving Access to Education

College may be more expensive than ever, but not going to college is costly, too. Pew Research Center’s analysis finds that college graduates ages 25 to 32 who work full-time earn $17,500 more than high school graduates. Still, college loan debt is crushingly expensive, especially for students who don’t finish their degree.

President Obama talked about two measures to help students attain affordable degrees. The first, income-based repayment, is based on a rule he enacted by executive order last year.

“If you are graduating you can make an arrangement where you never pay more than 10 percent of your income,” Obama said.

The second plan is more dream than reality, especially in the current political climate, but would make a huge difference to students with good grades and college aspirations: two free years of community college for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher.

See the entire Town Hall in the video, below:

Tell Us What You Think

When do you think women will reach pay equity? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Re: “Why are women underrepresented at the top?”

Because even today far more women than men prefer to be married to a CEO rather than be one.

Why are men underrepresented in child-related jobs?

“The Doctrinaire Institute for Women’s Policy Research: A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality”

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