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The White House tried to explain its gender pay gap. It didn’t go well.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest struggled to explain the administration’s pay gap, which finds women making 88 cents on the dollar for what men earn. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Yes, this is a case of deja vu all over again.

With the White House’s release of its payroll, administration officials once again are having to explain how it is that they can complain about the gender pay gap and then have one of their own.  It didn’t go so well the last time this contradiction came up in April.  And it didn’t go so well this time either. What the new salary release shows is that the administration has not narrowed the pay gap between men and women employees at the White House since 2009.

Our colleague Zachary Goldfarb crunched the numbers and found this:

The average male White House employee currently earns about $88,600, while the average female White House employee earns about $78,400, according to White House data released Tuesday. That is a gap of 13 percent.

In 2009, male employees made an average of about $82,000, compared to an average of $72,700 earned by female employees — also a 13 percent wage gap.

One of the key reasons is that more men hold the higher-paying, senior jobs in the White House, and more women hold the lower-paying, junior jobs.

And what does the White House say about these numbers?  It’s complicated.  At the daily press briefing, the explaining fell to Josh Earnest, the press secretary, who argued that men and women in similar jobs make the same pay.

He said there are a “variety of measures to try to get at whether or not workers are receiving equal pay for equal work.”

“I’d point out that of all of the departments here at the White House — there are 22 different departments — more than half of them are run by women. So there are women in senior positions who are being paid according — in line with those senior positions. That is also another way to sort of evaluate one’s commitment to pay equity.”

But also, another way to evaluate one’s commitment to pay equity is to look at how women are represented at each salary level, and by that measure, the White House has some work to do.

A  key sentence from Goldfarb’s analysis is this: Currently, there are 87 male White House officials who make more than $100,000, compared to 53 female White House officials. The gap narrows, but persists, at the highest echelons of the White House. Among the most senior officials, there are two more men than women.

All of which leaves this question:  Why aren’t there more women in the White House who make more than $100,000?

The White House has tended to pat itself on the back for having a gender gap that is smaller than the national average–77 cents nationally and 88 cents in the White House.  And along with Democrats, President Obama has pressed Republicans to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“What I think in some ways might be the most important way that one can demonstrate their commitment to pay equity: There’s paycheck fairness legislation that is sitting in Congress right now that’s being blocked by Republicans,” Earnest said. “The president is strongly supportive of the Paycheck Fairness Act. The president signed an executive order essentially applying the principles of the Paycheck Fairness Act to federal contractors. That’s as much as he can do using his executive authority.”

Which leaves this question:  Can’t Obama also use his executive authority to hire more senior-level women in the White House who make over $100,000?

Earnest said there’s still work to be done for this White House.

“There is no doubt that there is more that we can do to improve our record here at the White House, but when compared to the private sector, our record stands pretty strong,” he said.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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