By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States must erase the pay gap between women and men to recover fully from the COVID-19 crisis, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday, flanked by members of the U.S. Women’s national soccer team that has made "Equal Pay" its rallying cry.
Biden proclaimed Wednesday as National Equal Pay Day, marking a yearly event that measures how much longer into a new year U.S. women on average must work to earn what the average man earned the previous year.
The average woman in the United States now earns 82 cents for every dollar earned by the average man, Biden said, noting the disparities were even greater for women of color and had gotten worse as a result of the pandemic.
Black women earn 63 cents on the dollar, and would have to work until August to earn the same amount as a man did in the past year, while Latina women earn just 55 cents on the dollar.
The Democratic president noted that 2 million women had left the workforce during the pandemic, bringing women's labor force participation rate to its lowest level in 30 years, because “so much extra weight of caregiving and responsibility is falling on their shoulders."
Biden was joined at the White House event by first lady Jill Biden, and Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce, two members of the World Cup-winning team that has battled for years to win equal compensation with the national men's team.
'DEVALUED, DISRESPECTED AND DISMISSED'
Rapinoe told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the championship team had exceeded the accomplishments of its male counterparts but received inadequate compensation and playing conditions.
The team reached a settlement in December with U.S. Soccer on certain working conditions, including team travel and accommodations, but is still fighting in the courts to achieve equal pay to the men's soccer team.
Despite her wins as a professional athlete, Rapinoe told the White House event she had been "devalued ... disrespected and dismissed" simply because she was a woman.
Biden vowed to fight for better pay and better opportunities for women, and called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ensure greater rights for workers, more accountability for employers and greater transparency.
"To come out of this crisis and build back better, we need to erase the gender pay gap," he said. "Equal pay makes all of us stronger."
Vice President Kamala Harris told women's advocacy groups during a separate meeting that change was overdue, noting that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour added up to an annual salary of $15,000, and one in three of those workers was a woman of color.
"We have to hold employers accountable. We have to hold corporations accountable," she said.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the past year had inflicted "a further, devastating toll on American women," and vowed to enact legislation to end the gender wage gap and strengthen women’s economic security.
Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package includes multiple measures to aid women and families, with the 100 millionth stimulus payment deposited on Wednesday.
His next legislative push, valued at some $3 trillion, will seek to expand the nation's childcare infrastructure and create millions of jobs, administration officials say.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Peter Cooney)