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Are We Actually Surprised Trump Is Ending Equal Pay?

If it's legislation Obama enacted, No. 45 will destroy it—especially if it means hurting women and people of color the most.
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In the latest salvo in his war on women, Donald Trump has thrown out an Obama-era rule that would have made it easier for women and people of color to determine whether they were paid less than their white male counterparts. Whatever this action is—reprehensible, short-sighted, mean-spirited—it's certainly not surprising.

Donald Trump told us who he was, all throughout the election. We learned from the final presidential debate, where he called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” for having the temerity to talk about … .Social Security funding. He told us via routine remarks upon women’s attractiveness or lack thereof. And let’s not forget the Billy Bush tape, where we got to hear that Trump thinks because he is famous, he can grab women “by the pussy.” There was no mystery as to what kind of person Donald Trump is or what he thinks of women.

It didn’t get any better once Trump became president. He still expresses his rage against women by demeaning their appearance, like he did with Mika Brzezinski. He felt it appropriate and necessary to comment on what good shape Brigitte Macron, the first lady of France, was in. Indeed, becoming president has just given him brand new opportunities to be globally awful to women. His administration has removed a 2014 report on sexual violence from the White House website (much like they removed, en masse, all LGBT material). He’s made incredibly clear that he doesn’t support reproductive health care and is actively anti-choice. He’s proposing to drastically slash funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. He has appointed three men for every woman that he appoints. He trashed the White House Council on Women and Girls. All that, and we haven’t even gotten to the equal pay issue.

This story has been widely reported as Trump rolling back equal pay initiatives but here’s the real deal: the regulation enacted by Obama, despite routinely being called an “equal pay rule," doesn’t actually do all that much, and it certainly never guaranteed equal pay. All the rule did was require companies with 100 employees or more to disclose pay data broken down by race and gender to the EEOC and the Department of Labor. That’s it.

The theory behind it was that disinfectant is the best sunshine, and that transparency would result, eventually, possibly, somehow, in narrowing the gender pay gap, if for no other reason than women and people of color could at least be armed with enough knowledge to negotiate or confront their employer. And that gender pay gap is still significant—although there are outliers who make up to 90 cents on the dollar, on average women make only 79 cents for each dollar men make. That’s for white women. Women of color have it far worse. For example, Hispanic or Latina women make only 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Mothers make less than non-mothers across the board, and 71 cents to a father's dollar on average. So Obama’s rule was a baby step. It only applied to larger companies, and it didn’t do anything except tell them they had to report their pay data. But that meager action was too much for Trump and his daughter Ivanka, even though the latter has been positioned as both a moderating influence on dear old dad and someone committed to the advancement of women and, in particular, working mothers.

Why did the rule have to go, besides the rampant misogyny that fuels this administration? Because businesses hated it, and Trump always does the bidding of businesses. It’s too burdensome, they argue, to track and report on their own pay data (as if big companies don’t track employee payroll obsessively). Even Google, which brings in close to $28 billion each year, has argued in court that it would just be too expensive to provide payroll data to the government after being accused of systematic underpayment of women.

More than anything else thus far, Ivanka backing the overturning of this rule highlights her breathtaking hypocrisy. During the campaign, she said Trump would fight for equal pay for equal work that she herself was “passionate” about wage equality. She went to Germany and praised Angela Merkel’s equal pay initiative that is very similar to the one her dad just tossed. (Trump also went to Germany and gave a speech about how Ivanka is a forceful advocate for women entrepreneurs.)  She wrote a book, Women Who Work, that is ostensibly about female empowerment but ends up being about Ivanka lamenting over how she doesn’t take enough time for her own self-care. That book barely touches on matters like paid leave, but somehow there was still a chunk of people that convinced themselves that Ivanka remained deeply committed to fighting for women.

Perhaps, with Ivanka explicitly backing her father’s actions in gutting the Obama pay reporting rule, we can finally put that lie to rest. Her explanation for doing so is nonsensical. She said that it would result in getting too much data and wouldn’t yield the intended results. This framing, of course, gives her an out: it isn’t that she’s against equal pay. It’s that this method won’t result in equal pay.

She’s right on that count. What would result in equal pay would be sweeping legislation requiring equal pay, but America has been kind of terrible about that. So, Obama’s administration switched over to the private side of things: if we can’t legislate it, we can begin to attempt to regulate it by just making companies be honest about what they pay and to whom.

It is patently absurd to argue that being required to track what you pay to who is too difficult. It's information that's already being tracked by large companies and this rule only required them to share the data. It is even more patently absurd to assume that pay gaps will solve themselves and the government never need see any data about the matter. People like the Trumps can continue to give lip service to “equality” while doing nothing to actually advance it.

Thus far, Ivanka has been a useful person to deploy to show that Trump truly loves women. Trump may genuinely love his daughter, and she may genuinely love herself, but none of that extends to either of them caring about the fate of women in America. 

 

Lisa Needham is an attorney who has worked in the areas of First Amendment, education, and labor law. She is the deputy editor of Lawyerist, where she writes about access to justice and diversity in the law, and a contributor to Rewire, where she writes about LGBTQ and reproductive-health legal issues. She is ride or die for Dionne Warwick, Doris Day, and the Oxford comma. Follow her: @snipy
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