[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 10, 1998]
[Pages 931-932]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 931]]

Remarks on Proposed Equal Pay Legislation
June 10, 1998

    Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. We gather here to 
recognize and reaffirm the historic commitment of this Nation to equal 

Murder in Jasper, Texas

    Before I get into my remarks, I hope you will understand if I don't 
let the moment pass without making a brief comment about the shocking 
and outrageous murder of James Byrd, Jr., in 
Jasper, Texas. Federal law enforcement officials are on the ground 
there, assisting local law enforcement officials. Because it's an 
ongoing investigation, I can't comment on the facts of the case, but I 
can tell you this: We are determined that the investigation will be 
thorough, will be fair, and that the guilty will be brought to justice.
    I ask for your thoughts and your prayers to be with the family of 
Mr. Byrd today and with the people of that community, because in the 
face of this tragedy, they must join together across racial lines to 
demonstrate that an act of evil like this is not what this country is 
all about. I think we've all been touched by it. I can only imagine that 
virtually everyone who lives there is in agony at this moment. But they 
must reaffirm, and so must we, that we will not tolerate this.

Proposed Equal Pay Legislation

    Now, let me just say, I've had a wonderful time here today, and 
everything that needs to be said has been said. [Laughter] I thank 
Hillary and Al and Tipper. We care a lot about 
these issues. We spent hours in 1992--hours--talking about how we had to 
change the framework of American life so that people could succeed at 
work and at home; how we had to make it possible for everyone who was 
able-bodied to work, but how the most important work of any society was 
taking good care of our children. And we went through this whole long 
litany of things, of which unequal pay is clearly a big one, that are 
barriers to building strong families, strong communities, and the 
strongest possible economy.
    I thank Senator Kennedy, Senator 
Boxer, and Congresswoman DeLauro and Delegate Norton and 
all the Members of the House who are here, and my special friend Dorothy 
Height for a lifetime of commitment to all 
    I'm here because, like Rosa DeLauro, I'm the son of a working 
mother. I had a working grandmother; I have a hard-working wife; and we 
have done everything we could to make sure that our daughter never faced 
any barriers to her dreams. That's what I want for every American young 
    Although, I must say--you remember when Senator Kennedy said that he 
talked about how much we'd closed the inequality gap in the last 3 or 4 
years and if that pace of progress had been kept for the last 35 years, 
then women would be earning $1.71 for every dollar of men. And that's 
about the ratio of my earnings and Hillary's before I became President. 
[Laughter] And I liked it quite well. [Laughter] First thing you know, 
the people that don't agree with us on anything will be accusing me of 
some strategy to make men lazy. [Laughter]
    We have indeed come a long way since Dorothy Height and Congresswoman Edna Kelly, Evvy, and others were here 35 years ago. President Kennedy 
said that the Equal Pay Act was basic to democracy, giving women the 
same rights in the workplace they have enjoyed at the polling place. 
You've already heard that we have moved in that 35 years from a period 
when, on average, women earned 58 cents for every dollar men earned, to 
a report released by the Council of Economic Advisers--and Dr. 
Yellen is here--saying that women now earn 
more than 75 cents on the dollar. But that's just three-quarters of the 
way home.
    And to people who think it isn't very much, I ask you: If you had 
the choice, would you rather have 100 cents on the dollar or 75? You 
would think it was quite a lot after you had taken a few of those 75-
cent dollars.
    Here's something that's interesting that no one else has pointed 
out. The CEA study shows that the gender gap is persistent, though 
narrowing, despite women's gains in education and experience, and even 
accounting for the difficulties of balancing family and work so that 
there are more women in part-time jobs. When you

[[Page 932]]

take account of every conceivable variable explainable by something 
other than plain old discrimination in equal pay for equal work, there 
is still this 25 percent gap.
    And the Labor Department today--and I thank Deputy Secretary 
Higgins for being here--is 
releasing a report which shows a history of women's employment. It shows 
what the obstacles were, which ones have faded away, which ones still 
remain. To those of you who have been involved in this for a long time, 
I urge you to look at the Council of Economic Advisers report and the 
Labor Department report, and I think you will be persuaded that there is 
no explanation for the gap that is complete without acknowledging the 
continued existence of discrimination.
    Now, this should not be a partisan political issue. In a funny way, 
it shouldn't even be a gender issue. More fundamentally, it is a civil 
rights issue; more fundamentally than that, it is a family issue, where 
I can testify that young boys eat at the table where the bread is earned 
by their mothers as well. And it is a matter of American principle. It's 
a question of what kind of America we want our children and our 
grandchildren to live in, in the 21st century.
    That's why I strongly support the Equal Pay Act that Senator 
Daschle and Congresswoman DeLauro have introduced. Wage discrimination based on gender 
is just as wrong as wage discrimination based on race or any other 
artificial category.
    This legislation will help us to close the last part of the gap; it 
will strengthen enforcement of the Equal Pay Act; it will toughen 
penalties for violations; and it will boost compensation for working 
women. It is tough; it is fair. Congress should pass it. And I join 
Congresswoman DeLauro in asking that it be 
scheduled for a vote. Let's give everybody in Congress the chance to 
vote on something good and the chance to do something good for the 
people back home.
    We're coming up on the first anniversary of the President's 
Initiative on Race, so I've been thinking a lot about what it means to 
have a society with equal opportunity, where people are bound together 
celebrating their differences, but understanding there are things we 
have in common that are more fundamental.
    There have been a lot of people who have written some interesting 
books and some that I didn't quite agree with over the last several 
years, talking about the inherent differences between men and women--
Venus, Mars, Uranus, Pluto, whatever--[laughter]--and others on a more--
with a more political overtone. But I believe that whatever your views 
on that are, surely all of us believe that the citizenship we share is 
unitary and that the guarantees of the Constitution are sweeping enough 
to embrace us all without regard to our gender. Therefore, it is 
ludicrous to say that 75 percent equality is enough.
    You wouldn't tolerate getting to vote in three out of every four 
elections. [Laughter] You wouldn't like it if someone said you could 
only pick up three out of every four paychecks. But that is, in effect, 
what we have said to the women of America. Show up every month, show up 
every day--show up every day--but only three out of four paydays. It's 
not good enough.
    The 21st century, as I have been pounding the podium about for the 
last 5\1/2\ years, will be the time of greatest opportunity in all human 
history, especially for our country. We cannot let it be known also for 
the opportunities that were lost and the people who were left behind. 
With your help, we will prevail.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:29 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive 
Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Dorothy Height, chair 
and president emerita, National Council of Negro Women; and Evelyn 
DuBrow, special assistant to the president, Union of Needletrades and 
Industrial Textile Employees.