By Justin Sink - 06/10/13 04:22 PM EDT
President Obama on Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, noting that while progress had been made, more work had to be done to eliminate dramatic pay disparities for women in the workplace.
"As long as this gap persists — we’ve got more work to do. Now’s the time to keep up the work those trailblazers started," Obama said at an event in the White House East Room commemorating the landmark legislation that prohibited employers from paying lower wages to employees of one sex.
"This is the 21st century," Obama continued. "It's time to close the gap."
Obama said that the increasing number of female breadwinners in the workforce was "not something to panic about or be afraid about," but instead underscored the need for more progress on equal pay.
"When more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn’t just be getting a little bit of bacon," Obama quipped. “If they’re bringing home more of the income and that income is less than a fair share, that means that families have less to get by on for childcare or healthcare, or gas or groceries.”
The president also dismissed critics who have argued that the gap between female and male pay is narrower, pointing to the frequently cited figure that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is.
"You wouldn't like it if you were only paid for three out of every four days," Obama said. "Men would be complaining about that. They wouldn't think that’s equal or fair."
Obama also advocated for the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that has twice stalled in Congress, which would expand the reach of the Equal Pay Act. The president said it was "time for Congress to step up ... so women have better tools to fight for equal pay."
The president made female voters a focus of his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, besting GOP nominee Mitt Romney last year among women 55-43 percent, according to exit polls.
The White House has sought to keep a focus on the economy in recent weeks, as questions have swirled over controversial surveillance operations by the National Security Agency, targeting of conservative political groups by the Internal Revenue Service and leak investigations into media organizations by the Justice Department.
The president did not take questions after his statement.