Obama turns to women's economic issues

President Obama will kick off a new springtime effort on women’s economic issues with a trip to Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, where he’ll discuss efforts to expand female higher education access.

The trip is the first in a series of events focusing on ways the president and federal government could help shrink the pay disparity between men and women, and improve female employment numbers.

The renewed focus comes ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, where Democrats hope to cling to their majority in the Senate and avoid losing seats in the House. Women were crucial to the president’s reelection bid, with the president having a 12-point advantage among female voters.

On Thursday, Obama will host a roundtable discussion at Valencia College. His remarks are expected to focus on how women are disproportionately dependent on financial aid, and how many older women seeking postsecondary degrees are balancing their education and families.

But the event is also intended to promote a series of five regional forums where senior administration officials will solicit ideas about how the government could make it easier for women to get ahead in the workplace. 

The events in Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and New York City are intended as listening sessions for the White House to gather ideas on how the president and other lawmakers can address discrimination issues and family pressures that exacerbate gender disparities. 

“The point of tomorrow is to really kick off a series of conversations around the country,” said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Next week, the Small Business Administration and the National Women’s Business Council will also hold a roundtable discussion with business leaders and academic experts on how to encourage more female entrepreneurs.

And in June, the White House will host a “Summit on Working Families” in Washington, where the administration and outside participants can share some of the best ideas and practices collected across the country.

“We want the summit to be very result-oriented,” Jarrett said.

The White House is also expected to use the forums to promote the president’s policy priorities. Obama will repeat his calls for Congress to raise the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women, as well as provide funding for early childhood education programs.

“We know that when women succeed, America succeeds,” Jarrett said.

But Democrats are also mindful that, when women vote, their party succeeds. 

The president has repeatedly sought to underscore his efforts on behalf of women in recent months, as Democrats try furiously to rally the base before voters head to the polls.

Last week, Obama hosted female members of Congress at the White House for a forum on women’s economic issues. The Council of Economic Advisers also released a report showing that women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and the wage gap increases for women of color.

During the Democratic National Committee winter meeting late last month, Obama mocked Republicans for bringing in outside consultants to advise them on how to talk to female voters.

"It is unclear how they’ve gotten this far without that particular skill," Obama said. "But talking the talk ain’t walking the walk. The problem isn’t how they talk about their policies — the problem is their policies."

Obama also reiterated his focus on the female pay gap, a centerpiece of his State of the Union address, during his speech to the DNC.

"This isn’t 1954, it’s 2014. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work," he said. "She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves to take a day off to care for a sick kid or a sick parent without running into hardship, and a father does too."

Republican lawmakers have argued that equal pay legislation championed by Democrats is unnecessary, and existing laws should be better enforced. Some, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have objected to Democrats' claim that the GOP is waging a "war on women."

“I think women are doing very well, and I’m proud of … how far we’ve come,” Paul told CNN earlier this year. “I think some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up, and we don’t get to any good policy by playing some charade that one party doesn’t care about women, or one party isn’t in favor of women advancing or other people advancing.”

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