President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 1, 2014.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

With his ‘pen and phone,’ Obama tackles education and equal pay

Updated

Fresh off his victory lap of 7.1 million people enrolling in health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama is picking up his pen and phone to move two issues forward by executive action: education policy and equal pay.

A Presidential Memorandum due to be signed Tuesday will require federal contractors to submit wage data by sex and race, which the Department of Labor will use “to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and allowing more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, reducing burdens on other employers.”

On Monday, Obama will travel to Bladensburg High School in Maryland to announce the winners of the Youth CareerConnect Competition, created by executive action last year to prepare high school students for the rigors of college and full-time employment, especially in STEM careers. More than $100 million in grants has been made available by the Departments of Labor and Education to provide awardees with educational opportunities, job training, mentorship, field trips and academic counseling.

“I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.” While Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a $300 million grant pool in June 2013, the funding total was later downgraded.

In order to create more pay transparency in the workforce, Obama will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers who share salary data, according to a memo from a White House official. 

Obama will commemorate Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, alongside activist Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the first piece of legislation Obama signed into law, which allows people a longer time frame in which to recover lost wages due to gender discrimination. “If women do not even know that they are underpaid, they cannot take steps to remedy the pay gap,” the statement read.

The Senate is set to take up the Paycheck Fairness Act next week, which is aimed at closing the loopholes in the half-century old Equal Pay Act. Republicans blocked the legislation from coming to a vote last year.

According to the Census Bureau, a wage gap of 77 cents to the dollar exists between women and men, with that figure widening to 64 cents to the dollar among African-Americans, and 55 cents to the dollar among Hispanics. The stats are even more alarming in traditionally male-dominated fields, like manufacturing and financial services, and research shows the gap actually widens with greater educational attainment. 

“You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns,” Obama said in his 2014 State of the Union address. “That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”

With his 'pen and phone,' Obama tackles education and equal pay

Updated