Obama touts economy, blames GOP for blocking equal-pay bill

President Barack Obama visits ImaginOn for a a town hall-style discussion on the Paycheck Fairness Act, his proposal to increase the federal child tax credit and to expand the earned income tax credit, in Charlotte on Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
President Barack Obama visits ImaginOn for a a town hall-style discussion on the Paycheck Fairness Act, his proposal to increase the federal child tax credit and to expand the earned income tax credit, in Charlotte on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

President Barack Obama’s town hall meeting in Charlotte, which focused on equal pay for women, ended Wednesday with the president exhorting women to demand fair treatment.

“You’ve got to remind your daughters that things are not perfectly fair, but people who work hard can make it fair,” Obama said in a concluding answer to questions on subjects ranging from child care to student loans.

“We want them to think the world is wide open to them.”

The president used the 80-minute, invitation-only session at ImaginOn, the uptown library and children’s theater, to tout the improving economy under his administration. He goaded Republicans for blocking equal-pay legislation and cutting education budgets.

Over and over, Obama used personal anecdotes about his daughters and a grandmother who he said was repeatedly passed over for advancement in her job at a bank.

“I’ve got two daughters. I expect them to be treated the same as someone with sons in terms of jobs,” Obama said.

Republicans quickly issued a retort.

“When it comes to helping women in today’s economy, President Obama is all rhetoric and no results. During his presidency, weak job growth and lower paying jobs have left more women in poverty,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement.

Since Obama took office, the RNC said, census data show that the proportion of women in poverty grew from 14.4 percent in 2008 to 15.8 percent in 2013. Women have won fewer jobs since the end of the recession, the RNC said, and have continued to find lower pay.

Obama discussed efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act during the town hall meeting. The measure would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who ask about gender-based pay disparities.

The bill is supported broadly by congressional Democrats but opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and was blocked by Senate Republicans last year.

Critics say it would generate unfounded lawsuits and that the act isn’t needed because gender-based pay discrimination is already illegal.

A brief visit

Obama seemed relaxed as he began his remarks, joking about hanging out with “The Cat in the Hat” backstage before the program began. “This is fun,” the president said. Obama took questions submitted through BlogHer and SheKnows, websites geared toward women.

Most in the audience of just over 200 people were women. A baby cried intermittently and babbled, and Obama said hello to it. He also joked when a member of the audience’s microphone didn’t work.

“I’ll be like Phil Donahue,” Obama said as he stood up and walked over to hand her his mic.

Obama noted the 12 million jobs created and an unemployment rate that has dropped to 5.5 percent during his administration. He goaded Republicans for proposing tax cuts that he said would net “millionaires and billionaires” an average of $50,000 each, or about what a typical U.S. worker earns in a year.

His first question was on the equal-pay legislation. Questions followed on increasing teacher pay, child care and child credits, which Obama’s budget proposal would increase.

The president’s visit was brief, just over 2 1/2 hours. Obama’s motorcade departed uptown for Charlotte Douglas International Airport to fly back to Washington, shortly after 4 p.m., driving through pounding rain. A few people huddled along the route, waving and taking pictures with cellphones under umbrellas.

The president had landed in Air Force One at the airport at around 1:55 p.m. Wednesday under cloudy skies and a driving rain.

In a building at the airport, he greeted Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter.

“You guys have some showers, don’t you?” the president quipped.

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat whose 12th Congressional District includes parts of Charlotte, accompanied the president, as did U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill.

The wage gap

Although North Carolina’s economic recovery has cut the state’s unemployment rate by more than half since the latest recession, researchers say women still face a considerable wage gap.

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that women in North Carolina make 83 cents for every $1 men make. Women in the state won’t make equal pay until 2064, the group says, six years later than it expects the nationwide gender wage gap to close.

Statewide, North Carolina women make an average of almost $35,000, compared with the national average of about $38,000, according to the institute’s data. North Carolina men make an average of $42,000, compared with the national average of $45,000.

Speaking on Tax Day, Obama also touted his proposal to increase the federal child tax credit and to expand the earned income tax credit, which supporters say would help working families.

Republicans criticized Obama’s visit before the town hall meeting began.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Cabarrus County Republican, needled Obama for visiting on the day taxes are due.

“As North Carolinians face one of the most stressful days of the year, President Obama will be asking taxpayers to hand over even more of our hard-earned money to pay for Washington’s spending addiction,” Hudson said in a statement. “I fail to see how his approach will help folks take home more of their paychecks, reduce our debt, promote job creation or provide the economic security working families deserve.”

The North Carolina Republican Party credited the state’s economic improvement to tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory and said Obama should embrace similar policies.

“These types of policies are in stark contrast to the failed Obama agenda of higher taxes and bigger government that’s crushing the middle class,” the GOP said in a statement.

‘Like sitting in a living room’

Obama has visited several cities in the past month to talk about the economy, including Cleveland and Salt Lake City. In those visits, the president has highlighted his initiatives to increase solar energy development and stimulate manufacturing, as well as criticizing Republicans and defending the Affordable Care Act.

Obama is also set to continue talking about women’s pay and work issues. He’ll deliver remarks Thursday in Washington at an event honoring people advocating for paid family leave, paid sick days and equal pay for women.

At ImaginOn, Obama easily fielded questions from audience members and drew loud applause when he paid a compliment to North Carolina’s basketball teams.

“It was like sitting in a living room with him,” said Marcia Lampert who attended the town hall in her role as a board member of Crisis Assistance Ministries. “I thought he gave a lot of hope to women and families with practical ideas and policies he’s already implemented … and all the things he still thinks we need to do.”

Lisa Stone, of SheKnows Media, who moderated the question-and-answer session, said the town hall demonstrated how articulate working women are about “their needs and family needs.” She commended Obama for “robust, deep and policy-oriented answers.”

Staff writers Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Katherine Peralta contributed.

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Twitter: @ESPortillo

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