It's All Politics
3:26 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

The Politics Of Equal Pay: It's More Than A Women's Issue

Originally published on Tue April 8, 2014 4:18 pm

The pay equity issue, which President Obama and Democrats are making a central theme of the 2014 midterm election campaign, is often framed as a women's issue. But Democrats are expecting it will also have crossover appeal to men.

For many men, it's a matter of self-interest: Two-income families are part of a long-term trend, as many families find two paychecks essential to cover the bills in an era of rising prices and stagnant, if not falling, wages.

U.S. Labor Department statistics indicate that in nearly 60 percent of households with children in 2012, both parents worked. In husband-and-wife households without children (the agency's data doesn't account for same-sex families) the percentage of dual-earner households was close to 50 percent.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of married women earn more than their husbands, compared to about 6 percent in 1960.

That's why a big part of the Democrats' election year message is that the issue of equal pay goes beyond women or gender justice.

"This is not just an issue of fairness, it's a family issue," said President Obama at a White House event marking Equal Pay Day, the point in 2014 to which the average woman needed to work in order to match the 2013 wages of the average male worker.

"It's also a family issue and economic issue, because women make up about half of our workforce," Obama said. "And they're increasingly the breadwinners for a whole lot of families out there. So when they make less money it means less money for gas, less money for groceries, less money for child care, less money for college tuition."

Obama used the White House event to sign executive orders aimed at reducing pay inequities among federal contractors and urged the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It's true that focusing on the equal pay issue is straight out of the Democratic playbook, since it aligns nicely with the gender gap advantage that Democrats have had over Republicans with women voters.

But because the role of women in the workforce is at post-World War II historical highs, progressives view the current climate as particularly favorable for an argument aimed at not just women, but men too.

"We've seen men more engaged than ever around this issue — they absolutely understand that when women are paid fairly, the whole family will benefit," said Marcy Stech, national press secretary for EMILY's List, a Democratic group that has coordinated with the Democratic National Committee on some of its Equal Pay Day messaging. "It's not a hard sell — most men want what's best for women, too."

A February poll for EMILY's List and AmericanWomen.org found that 64 percent of men agreed that women should be paid the same as men for equal work. Stech said younger men who support that position exceeded those opposing it by 25 percentage points. Older men favored equal pay by a 20-point margin over those opposed to it.

So while the equal pay issue clearly is clearly aimed at women voters, there's a receptive audience among male voters — presumably larger than ever because of the greater household reliance on women's incomes.

You could hear Obama targeting those men in his remarks at the White House event Tuesday.

"I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican; if you're a voter, if you've got a daughter, you got a sister, you got a mom — I know you got a mom — this is something you should care about."

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