Equal pay hasn’t quite made it to the White House, TBH.
While first ladies aren’t elected as political leaders, they nonetheless have a lot on their plate. As the official hostess of the White House, the first lady is in charge of organizing and attending state affairs with (or in place of) the president. She’s also got her very own East Wing office and staff to assist her with her daily duties, and her role has become increasingly influential — especially when it comes to spearheading action on bipartisan causes. It’s pretty clear the job (and it is a job) comes with a ton of responsibility. But do first ladies get paid for all the work they do? Here’s what we know.
Because the first lady’s position isn’t an elected one and comes with largely ceremonial (if extensive) duties, she does not receive a salary from the federal government. If this feels unfair to you, you definitely wouldn’t be the first to think so. In fact, a few presidents have expressed their displeasure with the White House wage gap. “You know, with the first lady the government gets an employee free,” President Ronald Reagan stated in a 1982 interview, referring to his wife Nancy Reagan. “They have her just about as busy as they have me,” he added.
As the years have gone by, first ladies have only gotten more and more busy. Over the past decades, it’s become standard for presidential spouses to champion a cause. Michelle Obama promoted healthy eating, Melania Trump stood against child bullying, and Jill Biden is the standard-bearer for educational causes. In an April 2015 interview, President Barack Obama called out the double standard on behalf of his wife. “Michelle would point out first ladies get paid nothing,” he stated. “So there’s clearly not equal pay in the White House when it comes to her and me.”
Being FLOTUS is so demanding, in fact, that many first ladies have stepped away from their former careers before assuming the role. Michelle Obama resigned from her position as a member of the board of directors of TreeHouse Foods, while Hillary Clinton stepped down from her career as a corporate lawyer at Rose Law Firm. Jill Biden is, in fact, the first woman to serve in the role while also maintaining her career as a writing professor at Northern Virginia Community College.
Nowadays, almost everyone knows the first lady’s role is much less “ceremonial” than her nonexistent salary makes it out to be. She regularly travels to serve as a representative for the president, to promote causes she stands behind, and even to champion legislation she believes in. So while the first lady doesn’t receive an official salary from the federal government like the president, that doesn’t mean she’s not in her bag.