NOTE on Executive Orders:
Various news reports state that President Obama signed executive orders; others refer to them as executive actions. The White House website states that the first signed by President Obama this week was an executive order and the other an executive memoranda.

A presidential executive order (EO) is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President of the United States under his statutory or constitutional powers.

Executive actions are any informal proposals or moves by the president. The term executive action itself is vague and can be used to describe almost anything the president calls on Congress or his administration to do. But most executive actions carry no legal weight. Those that do actually set policy can be invalidated by the courts or undone by legislation passed by Congress.

The terms executive action and executive order are not interchangeable. Executive orders are legally binding and published in the Federal Register, though they also can be reversed by the courts and Congress.

Executive memoranda are similar to executive orders in that they carry legal weight allowing the president to direct government officials and agencies. But executive memoranda are typically not published in the Federal Register unless the president determines the rules have “general applicability and legal effect.” (from about .com)


President Barack Obama signs executive order this week.

(by Jared A. Favole, The Wall Street Journal) WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the salary gap between men and women is unfair and needs to be remedied, outlining an election-year effort by Democrats to highlight gender pay disparities [inequality or differences] and shore up support for the party’s candidates among women voters.

“A woman’s got to work about three more months in order to get what a man got, because she’s paid less,” Mr. Obama said, speaking at a White House event. “That’s not fair. That’s like adding an extra 6 miles to a marathon.”

The president spoke before signing two executive orders related to equal pay among workers for federal contractors. The orders prohibit the contractors from retaliating against workers for discussing their pay. They also direct the Labor Department to establish regulations requiring federal contractors to give it summary data about their employees’ pay based on gender and race.

Mr. Obama said the orders will shine a light on pay disparity between men and women.

Republicans have said workplace discrimination does exist, but isn’t as widespread as Mr. Obama and Democrats contend. Republicans also say the remedies Democrats are offering could end up cutting flexibility in the workplace for women, who might prefer to work fewer hours than achieve the same salary as their male counterparts.

The Senate this week was set to consider legislation that would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by strengthening remedies for people suing over their pay. It would generally forbid employers from punishing workers for sharing salary information with each other and require employers to show that pay disparity is related to job performance, not gender.

The Senate was expected to hold a procedural vote on the bill Wednesday, said a senior Democratic aide. It is unlikely to advance because Democrats aren’t expected to get the 60 votes they need to move the bill closer to Senate passage.

The president said Republican resistance to legislation “fits with this larger problem, this vision that the congressional Republicans seem to be particularly embracing, this notion that you’re just on your own no matter how unfair things are.”

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, on Monday said workplace discrimination persists, but called the Senate bill “a desperate political ploy” by Democrats that doesn’t advance fairness for women.

Copyright 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj .com.


1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)

2. a) What is an executive order?
b) Describe the executive orders President Obama signed on Tuesday.
c) CHALLENGE: How many executive orders has President Obama signed compared to Presidents Bush and Clinton?

3. Why did President Obama sign these executive orders?

4. How do Republicans respond to the President’s fight against pay disparity? Be specific.

5. a) What law was the Senate considering updating this week?
b) Ask a parent if he/she would care if co-workers knew how much he/she earned and to explain why or why not. [NOTE: Generally employees in government jobs make the same pay for the same work; employers in privately-owned companies have more leeway on how much they pay their employees, taking into account education, experience, skill, job performance…)

6. Read the “Background” below the questions. List the factors the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) takes into account when comparing the pay men and women earn for full time jobs.

7. What do you think of these mitigating factors when comparing men’s and women’s salaries? Do women really get paid less when they do the exact same job?
What is fair? Should people be paid differently for the amount of work experience they have, for the length of time they have been at a particular company, for working longer hours, etc. or should none of these factors matter? Explain your answers.

8. From a CNN report:

On a day when President Obama trumpeted support of strengthening equal pay laws, a question about pay disparity between male and female staffers within the White House seemed to catch the administration a bit off guard. An analysis…found that women staffers made about 88 cents on the dollar, compared with male staffers. (Female federal workers in the early years of the Obama administration had a median salary of nearly 93% of what their male colleagues earn…) And while that figure for female federal worker earnings was up from just over 83 percent in 1991, it doesn’t exactly match the type of pay parity the White House was touting.

White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to reporters questions by saying they were working at it and “at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not a hundred, but it is better than the national average.”

What word(s) would you use to describe this explanation and the disparity of pay among White House staffers? Explain your answer.


Adapted from a WSJ commentary:

In its annual report, “Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2012,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that “In 2012, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median usual weekly earnings of $691. On average in 2012, women made about 81% of the median earnings of male full-time wage and salary workers ($854).” Give or take a few percentage points, the BLS appears to support the president’s claim.

But every “full-time” worker, as the BLS notes, is not the same:

  • Men were almost twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week, and women almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week. Once that is taken into consideration, the pay gap begins to shrink. Women who worked a 40-hour week earned 88% of male earnings.
  • Then there is the issue of marriage and children. The BLS reports that single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings in 2012.
  • The supposed pay gap appears when marriage and children enter the picture. Child care takes mothers out of the labor market, so when they return they have less work experience than similarly-aged males. Many working mothers seek jobs that provide greater flexibility, such as telecommuting or flexible hours. Not all jobs can be flexible, and all other things being equal, those which are will pay less than those that do not.
  • Education also matters. Even within groups with the same educational attainment, women often choose fields of study, such as sociology, liberal arts or psychology, that pay less in the labor market. Men are more likely to major in finance, accounting or engineering. And as the American Association of University Women reports, men are four times more likely to bargain over salaries once they enter the job market.
  • Risk is another factor. Nearly all the most dangerous occupations, such as loggers or iron workers, are majority male and 92% of work-related deaths in 2012 were to men. Dangerous jobs tend to pay higher salaries to attract workers. Also: Males are more likely to pursue occupations where compensation is risky from year to year, such as law and finance. Research shows that average pay in such jobs is higher to compensate for that risk.
  • While the BLS reports that full-time female workers earned 81% of full-time males, that is very different than saying that women earned 81% of what men earned for doing the same jobs, while working the same hours, with the same level of risk, with the same educational background and the same years of continuous, uninterrupted work experience, and assuming no gender differences in family roles like child care. 
  • These gender-disparity claims are also economically illogical. If women were paid 77 cents on the dollar, a profit-oriented firm could dramatically cut labor costs by replacing male employees with females. Progressives [liberals] assume that businesses nickel-and-dime suppliers, customers, consultants, anyone with whom they come into contact – yet ignore a great opportunity to reduce wages costs by 23%. They don’t ignore the opportunity because it doesn’t exist. Women are not in fact paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.

Administration officials are (very) occasionally challenged on their discrimination claims. The reply is that even if lower average female pay is a result of women’s choices, those choices are themselves driven by discrimination. Yet the choice of college major is quite free, and many colleges recruit women into high-paying science or math majors. Likewise, many women prefer to stay home with their children. If doing so allows their husbands to maximize their own earnings, it’s not clear that the families are worse off. It makes no sense to sue employers for choices made by women years or decades earlier.

The administration’s claims regarding the gender pay gap are faulty, and its proposal to make it easier for women to sue employers for equal pay would create a disincentive for firms to hire women.


Visit the White House website at for explanations of the executive orders President Obama signed this week.

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