Whether the move will generate support is yet to be seen. But according to recent studies, it will take far more than a presidential decree or a symbolic vote in Congress for women to make the same amount for the same work as men.
One of Obama's executive orders will allow employees of federal contractors to discuss what they earn with each other without retaliation by their employers. The other will force federal contractors to file information to show employee compensation by sex and race. The intent is to address "pay secrecy," as White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on a Monday conference call. The underlying assumption is that many workers don't realize how underpaid they are in comparison to men or other ethnic groups and so don't push for fairer compensation.
Democrats in the Senate plan this week to revive the Paycheck Fairness Act that would allow women to more easily sue employers for a gender bias in pay, according to the Associated Press. A vote is likely to happen Wednesday. Republicans are expected to block it, as they did with similar bills in 2010 and 2012.
The Democratic actions will have relatively little impact. Obama's executive orders only mandate the availability of information, not equal pay by gender, and then only for federal contractors. Senators likely already know the outcome of a symbolic vote which, even if it passed, would grind to a halt in the House.
There is extensive political calculus underway. Notice that equal pay bills show up every two years in the Senate, coinciding with the timing of congressional elections, rather than every year. Democrats worry about losing seats in the Senate and House during the fall's elections and hope to galvanize women voters. Still, gender pay gaps continue to exist.
The gender wage gaps vary widely, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the National Women's Law Center, and not in a red versus blue political map. For example, the states in which women make the most compared to men -- 80 cents to the dollar or more -- include California, New York, and Vermont, but also Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and Florida. Some states in which they make between 70 cents and 76.9 cents are Oklahoma, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as Massachusetts and Michigan.
According to the Post's report, some academics peg the differences to such variables as type of occupation, education level, and time in a company account for much of the gap. But even with those explanations, 5 percent to 12 percent gender gap in pay for the same jobs remains. An analysis of government data by the Institute for Women's Policy Research shows that even in occupations dominated by women, men make more, as MarketWatch reports.