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Obama pledges to address gender pay gap

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while making a statement about Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington March 20, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while making a statement about Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington March 20, 2014.

By Mark Felsenthal

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - President Barack Obama used a speech at a community college on Thursday to begin a series of events highlighting economic issues affecting women such as the gender pay gap in which women earn three-quarters as much as their male counterparts.

He spoke at the Orlando campus of Valencia College, a two-year institution that has been recognized for placing students in jobs and sending them on for higher degrees. Many of the students at Valencia are older and are returning to school fort training that will lead to higher-paying work.

Women are "facing unfair choices or outdated workplace policies that hold all of us back, and that has to change," the president said.

The White House plans similar events in Denver, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. The administration says the meetings will lead to a short list of actions the president can take by executive order, push Congress to act on, or launch with business collaboration. The measures would all be aimed at making it easier for women to find good jobs and be paid at levels that match those of their male counterparts.

"The president has a range of tools and he wants to figure out which are the right ones," White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told reporters.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report last week saying that although more women are earning higher educational degrees and filling a wider range of jobs than in the past, they continue to earn less than men. Full-time female workers make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, the CEA said.

As part of efforts to spur gender pay equity, the Small Business Administration will hold a conference to identify ways to get more women trained and start careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, professions with higher salaries.

"To improve earnings, we need to get women in higher paying occupations," said Betsey Stevenson, a member of the CEA.

Obama urged Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, a proposal that faces strong opposition from many Republicans. The White House says the increase is particularly important for women, who constitute a large share of the minimum wage workforce.

Women have been steady supporters of the president and of Democrats, and Obama wants to rally support among voters to prevent the Republicans from winning control of the Senate in November elections.

At a fundraiser later at the Miami home of former basketball all-star Alonzo Mourning, Obama warned Democrats that failure to turn out and vote in November congressional elections could get them "clobbered."

"The problem is not that the American people don't agree with us," he said. "Politics have gotten so toxic."

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney)

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