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Obama to discuss women’s economic issues in Charlotte

President Barack Obama will address questions about the wage gap and other issues during Wednesday's visit to Charlotte.
President Barack Obama will address questions about the wage gap and other issues during Wednesday's visit to Charlotte. AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama will be in Charlotte Wednesday to talk about women’s pay issues at a time when the local economy has rebounded substantially even as data suggest wage inequality persists in North Carolina.

In a town hall-style discussion for invited guests, Obama will discuss his efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to strengthen protections against gender-based wage discrimination. On Tax Day, the president will also tout his proposal to increase the federal child tax credit and to expand the earned income tax credit.

During the event at ImaginOn, the library and children’s theater uptown, Obama will take questions submitted through BlogHer and SheKnows, websites geared toward women.

Obama has been visiting select cities this month to talk about the economy, which has shown some trouble spots in recent weeks: The Labor Department reported that businesses added 126,000 jobs in March, ending a yearlong streak of job gains over 200,000. The monthly report also showed that the labor force shrank by almost 100,000 workers last month.

Further, economists anticipate that U.S. economic growth was flat in the first quarter after increasing just 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

But locally, the Charlotte economy has healed considerably over the course of the nearly six-year recovery. The region added about 41,000 jobs last year, one of the strongest gains the area has ever seen, said Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte.

“Charlotte has had solid job growth across virtually every industry, and the quality of jobs that are being added is actually pretty good,” Vitner said.

John Connaughton, a UNC Charlotte economist, noted that the Charlotte metro area has surpassed its pre-recession employment level after having lost 111,000 jobs during the crisis.

“From that low point, we’ve gained back 147,000, so we’re now 36,000 jobs ahead of where we were back in December 2007,” Connaughton said.

Even so, the second biggest category of job growth in the Charlotte area over the last year is leisure and hospitality, which includes low-paying and often part-time retail jobs, such as those in fast food, according to the most recent jobs report from the state’s Commerce Department.

Moreover, the wage gap between men and women – an issue Obama has been highlighting – persists in North Carolina, data show.

N.C. wage gap

Researchers at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington-based think tank, estimate that women in North Carolina make 83 cents for every $1 men make and that women in the state won’t make equal pay until 2064, six years later than the group anticipates the nationwide gender wage gap to close. Wage data are not available on the metro level.

“North Carolina is doing OK. It’s solidly in the middle of the pack, ranking 23rd overall in terms of women’s employment and earnings,” said Jessica Milli, an economist and senior research analyst at the institute.

Women statewide 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, on the other hand, make an average of $42,000, compared with the national average of $45,000.

But when it comes to working in managerial or professional jobs, women in North Carolina fare better than the nationwide average. In North Carolina, 40.2 percent of women work in those higher-level jobs, compared with 39.7 nationwide, and 31.5 percent of North Carolina men work in such jobs, compared with 32.9 percent of men nationwide.

One such woman is Alejandra Cabillon, a senior financial analyst at Charlotte-based manufacturer Jeld-Wen with a master’s in accounting and more than 20 years of experience in the field. Cabillon held a similar position at Chiquita before the banana company was acquired and announced it would leave Charlotte.

Two or three days after starting her job search, Cabillon said, she was contacted by about 27 recruiters and eventually had to decide between four different job opportunities.

“I love Charlotte, and the market here presents a lot of opportunities,” Cabillon said. “I knew I could find a job easily. Ninety-nine percent of the people with Chiquita don’t want to move.”

Act would block retaliation

In general, the Paycheck Fairness Act would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who inquire about gender-based pay disparities.

Broadly supported by congressional Democrats, the measure was blocked last year by Senate Republicans. Critics have said the measure would increase civil lawsuits and that the bill is not needed, since gender-based pay discrimination is already illegal. Opponents have included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said last fall that the measure would “significantly erode employer defenses for legitimate pay disparities.”

Lisa Stone, chief community officer of SheKnows Media and moderator of the president’s discussion, said in an email that the wage and income gap still must be addressed.

“Working mothers with children want to know when Congress is going to place a value on families – and what President Obama is going to do before he leaves office,” she said.

Peralta: 704-358-5079;

Twitter: @katieperalta

Meeting at ImaginOn

President Barack Obama’s town hall-style meeting at ImaginOn will be live streamed starting at 2:35 p.m. on SheKnows.com, BlogHer.com, across social media outlets and on WhiteHouse.gov. The event is invitation-only, but interested participants can submit questions by visiting BlogHer.com and SheKnows.com.

Those interested can also submit questions before, during and after the meeting on social media using the hashtag #ObamaTownHall. SheKnows Media will also use the hashtag #womenslives.

As part of his April tour on the economy, Obama also visited Louisville, Ky., and Salt Lake City last week. Katherine Peralta

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