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State Of The (Millennial) Union: Paid Leave And Fair Pay

By Casey Bruce

While President Obama briefly mentioned the pay gap and paid leave during his opening remarks on Tuesday night with a slew of other economic issues, he didn’t go into any further detail about how he plans to use his last few months in office to tackle those issues.

“And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing. Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done,” said President Obama during his address.

This is a sharp turn in narrative as the President has previously made it a point to hone in on these issues, specifically equal pay for equal work, during his other State of the Union addresses.

During the 2008 campaign, Democrats criticized Republicans greatly for defeating a 2007 version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and this became a point of contention during the presidential campaign. After Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008, the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on January 29, 2009. While the arguments for and against the pay gap and paid leave have generally been categorized as a gendered issue, Obama positioned it in his speech on Tuesday as an economic issue. With no mention of women, or the usual statistic of “79 cents to a man’s dollar,” Obama strategically used that opportunity to lay groundwork for economic issues he plans to focus on in the coming months.  

While Obama used his last State of the Union address to talk about America’s future and was generally light on policy details, the lack of narrative on the pay gap and paid leave were still noticeably absent in the remainder of his speech.