On Equal Pay Day, Obama calls gender pay gap an ‘embarrassment’

President Barack Obama said Tuesday it is an “embarrassment” that women in the United States earn less money than their male colleagues for doing the…

Lilly Ledbetter, center, applauds President Barack Obama, right, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, during an event marking Equal Pay Day. Obama announced new executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Barack Obama said Tuesday it is an “embarrassment” that women in the United States earn less money than their male colleagues for doing the same work.

Speaking in front of a packed room of women at the White House, Obama said that the average full-time working woman earns about 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. But the pay gap is even bigger for women of color, with African American women earning 64 cents and Latinas earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, according to the White House.

“In 2014, that’s an embarrassment. It is wrong,” Obama said of the wage disparities between men and women.

“America should be a level playing field, a fair race for everybody — a place where anybody who’s willing to work hard has a chance to get ahead,” he added. “And restoring that opportunity for every American — men and women — has to be a driving focus for our country.”

The president’s remarks came on Equal Pay Day, a date that marks how far into the year women must work in order to earn what men earned the previous year.

SEE ALSO: Equal Pay Day: Bloggers uniting for equal pay for Latinas

Meanwhile, Republicans were quick to point out Tuesday that women working for the White House are still making less than their male counterparts. The Republican National Committee noted in a statement that the White House is paying women 88 cents for every dollar a male staff member earns.

“All Republicans support equal pay for equal work,” stated Izzy Santa, Hispanic communications director for the RNC. “And while we all know workplace discrimination still exists, we need real solutions that focus on job creation and opportunity for women.”

Obama signs two ‘fair pay’ executive orders

The RNC’s statement came as Obama moved Tuesday to sign two executive orders to help combat pay discrimination and advocate for equal pay.

One of the orders prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation with their colleagues. The other one directs the Department of Labor to require federal contractors to provide data about their employee compensation.

Obama said his executive orders aim “to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay.”

Equal pay has been one of the top issues for Obama since he took office as president in 2009. In fact, the first piece of legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The bill helps women recover wages they lost to discrimination by extending the time period in which an employee can file a claim. It was named after Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama grandmother who spent decades working at Goodyear Tire and getting paid less than her male co-workers for doing the same job.

SEE ALSO: Lilly Ledbetter: Her struggle to end gender discrimination inspired Obama’s Fair Pay Act

At the White House on Tuesday, Ledbetter touted Obama’s efforts to ensure all workers get equal pay.

“Folks often refer to me as the face of fair pay, but for today at least that title belongs to President Barack Obama,” she said.

Paycheck Fairness Act, a political ploy by Democrats?

In his latest effort to advocate for equal pay, Obama urged the Senate on Tuesday to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill puts several new regulations into place, such as ensuring that employees who discuss their salaries don’t face retaliation by their employers.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday. Political pundits say it has a fair chance of passing the Democratic-dominated Senate, but it faces a tougher battle in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The bill is facing opposition from Republicans who say Democrats are pushing for the equal pay issue to score political points, especially among women, as the midterm elections near.

“The truth is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ is a desperate political ploy and 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,” stated Izzy Santa, Hispanic communications director for the RNC.

But Lily Adams, deputy communications director for the Democratic National Committee, dismissed those claims Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

“It’s not about scoring points. This is about basic fairness,” she said of Democrats’ efforts to push for equal pay.

SEE ALSO: Equal pay and equal respect for women