As President Obama prepares to unveil two new executive orders aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women, press secretary Jay Carney defended the fact that women at the White House earn, on average, 88 cents for every dollar that men do.
During the White House briefing Monday, reporters asked Carney to explain why an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute found the median salary for female White House staffers was 12 percent lower than those of male staffers.
"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," he 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."
Carney noted the White House has two deputy chiefs of staff — one male and one female — who earn the same salary, and more than half of its 16 department heads are women. Rather than framing the issue as one that the White House had to address, he added, "There’s work to be done across the country, and we need to engage on that."
What accounts for the wage gap at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? It is probably part of what accounts for the broader discrepancy between men and women's salaries: Women often take time off or scale back their hours to take care of children, and make up a disproportionate share of employees in lower-earning professions.
Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint and author of the AEI study, said coming up with a median salary average is "meaningless" whether you apply it to the national overall or the White House specifically.
Perry, a resident scholar at AEI, noted that the wage gap within the White House might "not be based on discrimination, but based on the fact that women and men are playing different roles within the organization."
When analysts factor in that variable, as well as others such as education and years of work experience, the gender gap narrows. According to these calculations, women lag anywhere between 5 and 12 percent behind their male counterparts.
One of Obama's upcoming executive orders will require federal contractors to report to the government or their employee compensation, and identify the sex and race of their workers. But Perry questioned whether that would be any more illuminating than the salary database the White House makes available to the public now.
"Why is that any different than what the White House is doing?" he asked. "Is that going to be enough to really uncover gender discrimination?"