The White House on Monday looked to deflect criticism over its own pay policies ahead of an event Tuesday on lessening wage discrimination.
White House press secretary Jay Carney was peppered by questions from reporters about an American Enterprise Institute study that found the salary for the median female White House staffer was 12 percent lower than for a male staffer.
"We have two deputy chiefs of staff, one man and one woman, and they make the same salary," Carney said. "We have 16 department heads. Over half of them are women, all of whom make the same salary as their male counterparts."
"What I can tell you is that we have, as an institution here, have aggressively addressed this challenge, and obviously, though, at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not a hundred, but it is better than the national average," Carney said. "And when it comes to the bottom line that women who do the same work as men have to be paid the same, there is no question that that is happening here at the White House at every level."
The discrepancy is likely explained by concentrations of women in lower-paying jobs at the White House, and, conversely, more men holding higher-level positions. Although workers are paid the same regardless of gender — a female assistant makes the same as a male in the same position — more women hold lower-paying jobs.
A 2009 study by CONSAD Research Corp. found women are more likely to choose occupations with relatively low wages, hold degrees leading to lower-paying occupations, and have a shorter work history.
But Democrats say the more valid comparison is what women are paid for the same work. In apples-to-apples comparisons, women still make less than men in a variety of jobs, according to the Department of Labor.
On Tuesday, President Obama plans to sign a pair of executive orders intended to strengthen equal pay protections for women and minorities.
They will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who disclose their salaries, and require contractors to submit information about the salaries, genders and races of its workers.
The moves are designed to intensify pressure on lawmakers ahead of a planned Senate vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act later this month.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement that all Republicans "support equal pay for equal work" but that the proposed legislation was ineffective.
"While we all know workplace discrimination still exists, we need real solutions that focus on job creation and opportunity for women," Kukowski said. "The truth is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ is a desperate political ploy and Democrats are cynically betting that Americans aren’t smart enough to know better. The ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ doesn’t provide paycheck fairness for women, instead it cuts flexibility in the work place for working moms and ends merit pay that rewards good work — the very things that are important to us.”