Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Chair of Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:33 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Okay. As you may know and now you will know, today is Equal Pay Day. And we have two special guests from the Council of Economic Advisers: Chair Cecilia Rouse and member Heather Boushey.

Chair Cecilia Rouse recently served as the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. She is a renowned labor economist with expertise centered in the economics of education and equality. Cecilia previously served as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama-Biden administration and on the National Economic Council in the Clinton administration. She is the first African American and just the fourth woman to lead the CEA in the last 74 years of its existence.

Heather is a longtime economic counselor to President Biden and previously served as president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. An expert on the impact of structural inequities on economic growth, she served as the chief economist for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential transition team, and as an economist for a range of think tanks and the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

They both have quite some resumes. I’m going to turn it over to them. They will each make some brief remarks, and we’ll be able to take a couple of questions. And they actually have a meeting with the Vice President they’ll have to get to shortly thereafter.

So, with that, I will turn it over.

CHAIR ROUSE: Good afternoon. It’s actually — it’s a — it’s a pleasure to be here today. So today is Equal Pay Day — a day that is sym- — is a symbolic representation of how far into this year women must wor- — work to catch up to what men made in the previous year.

Women working fulltime, year round, are typically paid just 82 cents for every dollar paid to men. It’s a reminder of the work that remains to be done to advance equity and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Because of this gender gap, women lose thousands of dollars each year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. The disparities are greater for Black and Hispanic women who earn 63 cents and 55 cents for every dollar that a white man earns.

What does this mean? So a Black woman must work around 19 months to earn what a white man would earn in one year. For a Hispanic woman, that is almost 22 months.

So what does this really mean? It means I shouldn’t be standing here today in front of you, and, really, I should be here sometime in August.

So what are we doing about it? President Biden and Vice President Harris believe we must begin by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill would be an important step towards ending pay discrimination through transparency and accountability for employers.

They believe we must provide paid family and medical leave, make childcare more affordable, and build pipelines for training that enable women to access higher-paying jobs.

They’re also committed to raising pay for childcare workers, preschool teachers, home health aides, and others in the care economy; and taking additional steps to increase wages for American workers, such as raising the minimum wage and empowering workers to organize and collectively bargain, both of which are important to reducing the wage gap for women.

We have made progress. My daughter is here today; she’s downstairs. And when I was her age, the gender wage gap was about 60 percent, compared to 80 percent — 82 percent today. That said, there’s still a lot of work to do. The Biden-Harris administration is working to make sure our daughters have the same opportunities that our sons do, and to make sure that every American is given a fair shot to get ahead in this country.

These aren’t simply women’s issues. They affect all families, the ability of our economy to recover, and our nation’s competitiveness.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Heather.

DR. BOUSHEY: Thank you. Thank you, Cecilia. So the pandemic and the economic crisis have undermined the health and wellbeing of women and children in the United States. There are now 4.2 million fewer women working than there were in February of 2020, in large part because of the pandemic. Millions more women have had to reduce their hours, often because taking care of the children is a responsibility that continues to fall disproportionately on women.

Our economic recovery depends on us addressing the barriers that have hampered women from fully participating in the labor force.

So here’s the good news: The American Rescue Plan will change the course of the pandemic and deliver immediate relief and support to women, families, and their communities critical to building a more equitable economy.

The plan will increase the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child to about $3,000 per child, and even more for a child under the age of six. This means a typical family of four with two young children will receive an additional $3,200 in assistance to cover the costs associated with raising children. This will benefit 66 million children.

The plan will also increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for 17 million workers by as much as $1,000, benefiting many cashiers, food preparers and servers, and home health aides — those frontline workers who have helped their communities get through this crisis, many of them are women, many of whom are women of color.

The plan also expands childcare assistance, helping hard- — hard-hit childcare providers, who are disproportionately women of color, cover their costs. And it will give families an additional tax credit to help them cut their childcare costs. Families will get back, as a refundable tax credit, as much as half — half — of their spending on childcare for children under age 13. So they can receive a total of up to $4,000 for one child or up to $8,000 for two or more children.

If we add it all up, these are historic actions that will not only help rescue our economy, they will help support our country’s women and their families. But we know, as Cecilia pointed out, we have to do more to close the wage gap and to take steps to ensure that all women, especially women of color, have their shot to get ahead.

And so, with that, we will take some questions.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Jennifer, kick us off.

Q All right, thanks. A question for you both — this is on racial economic gaps. During the campaign, President Biden talked about wanting the Federal Reserve to close income gaps and he wanted to measure the progress they make in closing those racial economic gaps. Would you be willing to say if any steps have been taken so far towards requiring that sort of thing? Is the White House still interested in talking to Congress about amending the Fed Act to require some sort of measures?

CHAIR ROUSE: Sure, I’m happy to take that. So, I can’t speak to that exactly at this time. What I can say is that we are — this administration, across the administration — we are committed to addressing racial — the racial wage gaps and racial inequity gaps.

I can say, at the CEA, for example, we are using data to understand the impact of all of our policies when we study what’s happening in the economy. We want to look at how it’s not just affecting the average, but looking at all groups.

And I would also mention that when Chairman Powell testified last — yesterday — I think it was just yesterday — and last week, he pointed to the fact that, as the Federal Reserve is doing its monetary policy, it is looking not just for the average unemployment rate to change; he is looking to see that the economy is doing well for everybody.

So, you know, we are — we are very aligned on that.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

Q Thanks for doing this. Josh Boak with AP. Lots of Americans thought educational attainment would close the gender wage gap and racial inequality. But, in fact, if you look at college grads, the gap widens between men and women. Some of that is due to age, but what are the factors driving here? Why hasn’t educational attainment delivered more?

DR. BOUSHEY: Go ahead.

CHAIR ROUSE: I’m happy to. Yeah, so, you know, educational attainment was actually very instrumental in making some of the gains between my daughter — for, you know, the wage gap when I was coming up and my daughter.

So we know that women getting hired — years of schooling was very important in the early years. But now we know that women, on average, are getting more schooling than men. So that is why it is not contributing as much. And what we see then is that there are other factors.

So we see that the wage gap among young adults is actually fairly small. And it opens up particularly when women start families, which is why the care economy and the efforts we’re making to ensure that workers — not just women, but all workers — can balance work and family is going to be so important.

We also know that flexible workplaces is very important for helping workers to balance work/life — you know, the work responsibilities and job responsibilities. Claudia Goldin at Harvard, for example, has found that the wage gap is smaller in occupations such as pharmacists where there’s just more flexibility baked into the occupation.

So there’s still more work to be done. And I think it really goes to helping women in particular, but all workers balance responsibilities of family and work.

MS. PSAKI: Karen.

Q Heather, you had cited the statistics on 4.2 million fewer women now in the workforce than before COVID. The President has said that women dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic is a “national emergency.” Are there new measures under discussion now, specifically on that issue, to reintroduce women back into the workforce — part of the Build Back Better plan? And what can be done to bring them back in?

DR. BOUSHEY: It’s a great question. You know, I mean, the most important thing that we need to do is wrap our heads around this pandemic. Right?

So the steps that were taken as a part of the American Rescue Plan to, you know, deal with the health crisis, make sure that the vaccine gets out — all of those things — that is certainly going to be an important step forward so that schools can reopen safely.

And then, of course, there are funds, as a part of the American Rescue Plan — historic investment in childcare centers to help them reopen safely. So part of what we see in this decline in women’s employment is because of their — the fact that they’re responsible for children; the fact that childcare centers have closed, schools aren’t open, families are trying to telecommute, or they’re trying to go out to their job and cope with children not having adequate care or the right care. That is really, I think, going to play an important role in getting folks back into the labor force.

And I want to stress that’s on both sides, right? In those caring economy parts of our economy, these are jobs that are disproportionately held by women. So, in making sure that schools are open and childcare centers are open, we’re helping those women as workers and also as parents and caregivers. So I think that is — those are some of the first steps that we need to see.

But, you know, over time, making sure that, as — you know, as Cecilia said, making sure that we have that strong foundation in the care economy on issues around childcare, also issues around, you know, how we help families that have someone who needs some extra care or, sort of, later-in-life issues — the aging and the disabled — along with making sure that we have workplace flexibility and we have paid leave. These are all things that help make it possible for people who have care responsibilities to be full members of our economy and our society.

MS. PSAKI: Andrea and Weijia, and then we got to — we got to wrap it up. Sorry. It’s Equal Pay Day. (Laughter.)

Q Just real quickly, in terms of the infrastructure package that’s coming next — right? — so that we’re talking about quite a lot of money: two to three trillion dollars. What specific things do you think essentially have to be part of that? And what role in all of this does the — sort of, your push for the federal minimum wage increase play? And how do you convince Congress that that’s an essential part?

DR. BOUSHEY: Well, I can take a stab at that.

CHAIR ROUSE: Do you want to — yeah.

DR. BOUSHEY: So, you know, we know that the President has been so clear throughout the campaign and into governing on what his values are and where he wants to guide this economy. Right? That we’re focused on how we can deepen, strengthen, broaden the middle class.

That’s why we’re so focused on Equal Pay Day because we know that women are a key part of — you know, make up the workers that make up the middle class. And he’s been very clear in his support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That these are the kinds of focus that we need to have in — as the agenda is built out, this is what he’s asked us to focus on.

Alongside this, we need to make sure that we are making sure that the economy is directed at enhancing, supporting, building American competitiveness so that we’re creating those good jobs and they’re available for all people — not just some people, but people all across these United States.

CHAIR ROUSE: Yeah, I guess what I was just going to add to that is that — right? — this next package is really about investing in our future and in making the kinds of smart investments that we know will increase growth. And we want that growth to be widely shared. So the idea is not just to increase the size of the pie, but to ensure that everybody gets their slice, unlike many policies that had been followed in the past.

Q Do you need to — I’m sorry, do you need to like include some kind of private-sector initiatives to nudge those companies that aren’t moving along as quickly?

CHAIR ROUSE: Look, I — we really can’t speak to the specifics. I think you’re used to Jen saying she likes to keep her job. I’d kind of like to keep mine, too. (Laughter.)

So we are — you know, we are looking at the most effective ways in order to meet these kinds of investments that we know are just so important to work on.

Q Thank you so much. I think, just to follow up on Karen’s question: You know, making sure that there is support for the women is one thing, but will there be any concrete measures in the Build Back Better plan to make sure the 4.2 million women have jobs to return to?

CHAIR ROUSE: Right. That is the exact purpose of the American Rescue Plan, right? The whole purpose is to get us through this pandemic with — and to help our businesses that are viable stay in business, to help the workers who need help paying their rent and getting food on the table to stay engaged and not just imagine that they’re going to drop out and drop out forever.

We know that the longer that we have the economic crisis and the longer that workers are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to come back. So that is the entire focus of the American Rescue Plan — is to get us back on track so that by next year we are back to essentially full employment.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Thank you both so much for coming.

CHAIR ROUSE: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: We’d love to have you back.

CHAIR ROUSE: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, I just have a couple of other items for you all at the top.

As you know, this afternoon, the President and First Lady will be joined by Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce at the White House for a virtual event with other members of the U.S. Women’s National Team where the President will sign a proclamation marking Equal Pay Day.

Additionally, the Second Gentleman is in St. Louis, Missouri, for a listening session on gender equity in the workforce.

As Cecilia and Heather just detailed, the pandemic and economic crisis have undermined the health and wellbeing of women and children. The American Rescue Plan provides help for women and families by increasing the Child Tax Credit, expanding childcare assistance, and providing women and families the relief they need. It also provides $130 billion to help schools serve all students and reopen.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law, the President, of course, traveled to Ohio — it was a great trip — where he announced that the administration would expand access to healthcare coverage by extending the Special Enrollment Period until August 15th. I know a number of you noted that, but I just wanted to reiterate it since it was late in the day.

This morning, the President was proud to sign into law the Save Lives Act. The bipartisan piece of legislation will give the VA the ability to provide vaccines to all veterans and boost vaccine efforts for veteran’s families and caregivers. It’s truly a testament to what government can do when we work together. He’s grateful for the leadership of both the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee: both Chairs Mark Takano and Jon Tester, and ranking members Mike Bost and Jerry Moran.

As we announced this morning — but to give you a little bit more detail — the President will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next week on Wednesday, March 31st, where he will deliver a speech laying out more details of his plan to build the economy back better.

Over the next several days — and this is probably why they were hesitant to give more detail — he will continue meeting with his economic team to finalize details of his proposal, including the scale, scope, and final policy components. His focus, of course, will be on investing in America’s workers, making sure the tax code rewards worth not wealth, delivering on the promises he made to the American people when he was running for President.

With that, go ahead, Josh.

Q Thanks, Jen. On the shooting in Colorado, the President said, “Congress must act.” Senator — Senate Majority Leader Schumer has also said the Senate is poised to act. But Vice President Harris said today, on CBS, that she thought the change would have occurred after the Sandy Hook shootings.

And I’m curious: What does the President think is different this time? And how has he changed his approach so that this administration can pass these changes, when, in the past, it failed?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President shares that sentiment, as I think many Americans do, that when we saw 20 children murdered, when we saw 6 adults murdered, that that would turn the tide of Congress.

We have seen data and statistics still — across the country — still broadly support background checks. I think it’s about 80 percent of the American public support background checks, including a good percentage of gun owners support background checks.

We’ve seen states take action. Since that time, a number of states across the country have put in place a number of laws. Sometimes states are the leaders, as we know and we’ve seen in other areas of policymaking.

But I think the President, who has been in public life and public office for 50 years — more than 50 years — would be the first to tell you, if he were standing here, that just because you don’t get the policymaking and the legislation done the first time, it doesn’t mean you quit trying.

And certainly, tragedies like we saw earlier this week, like we saw last week — mass shootings that are killing innocent lives, leaving family members without their loved ones — is a reminder of how important and vital that is.

He has talked about, as he did yesterday, the importance of working with Congress. I know the Vice President touched on the fact that if we want something to be permanent, if we want it to be lasting, we need it to be legislation. He certainly believes that, but there are also executive actions under consideration that we will continue working through internally. And there’s lots of levers you can take, obviously, as President and Vice President.

Q And then, secondly, today is the first chance for many in the media to see the situation on the southern border at government facilities.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q This is the first step of transparency. What else can we expect with regard to that so we can evaluate the situation and present it to the public?

MS. PSAKI: Well first, as you noted — I know all of you have covered this, but just to kind of reiterate where we are here: So there’s a delegation of members of Congress and White House officials who are traveling to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at Carrizo Springs in the — at the Influx Care Facility there. There is a network pool camera that will be a part of this journey, which will be — which will ensure that there’s network pool coverage — or network pool footage, I should say, that is provided to all of the networks so that you can all see, as the media, for yourselves and be able to provide analysis on that B-roll footage.

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