On Jan. 20, 2021, President-Elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Alongside him, Kamala Harris will become the Vice President (the first Black female Vice President, that is.) Joe’s wife, Jill Biden, will also be participating in this momentous ceremony, becoming sworn in as first lady.
The salaries of president and VP are not a secret — it’s relatively well-known that the president takes in a salary of $400,000 a year, plus other allowances, while the VP makes around $230,7002 (via Info Please). But how about the first lady? She’s sworn in just like the others — what does she take in for a salary?
Well, it may surprise you to learn that unfortunately, being first lady won’t actually earn Jill Biden a single penny. Ronald Reagan had it exactly right when he said in 1982 radio interview (via TIME), “You know, with the first lady the government gets an employee free; they have her just about as busy as they have me.
Many first ladies quit their day jobs
The FLOTUS doesn’t earn a salary just because she’s the FLOTUS. Does that mean she doesn’t have any responsibility in her role? To the contrary — she has quite an extensive job description. Historian Jean H. Baker calls the role “a full-time, all-consuming job.” As a result, many previous first ladies have given up their regular day jobs in order to support their husbands as president, to upkeep their FLOTUS responsibilities, and for general safety reasons. Michelle Obama gave up her job as a University of Chicago executive, and Hillary Clinton left her job at an Arkansas law firm (via Closer).
As for Jill Biden, she intends on keeping her job as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. “If we get to the White House, I’m gonna continue to teach,” she told CBS’ Sunday Morning adding, “It’s important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession.” This should come as no surprise, as she kept her job even while her husband was serving as vice president under President Barrack Obama.
What exactly does the first lady do?
According to Britanica, “Although unpaid and unelected, [the first lady’s] prominence provides her a platform from which to influence behavior and opinion.” In addition, Salary.com (via Style Caster) wrote a description of the duties of the FLOTUS, including “nonprofit program executive, communications executive, events director, secretary to the CEO and interior designer.”
But despite her responsibilities, the reason she isn’t paid is because she isn’t officially elected as first lady — it’s a role given to her by virtue of her husband’s position, so as a result, she isn’t considered to be an official employee of the government. Still, the role comes with round-the-clock scrutiny, which seems like a huge ask for a job with a salary of $0 a year.
Former President Barack Obama even used the surprising lack of compensation to highlight a widespread problem when it comes to gender disparity in the workplace. “Michelle would point out first ladies get paid nothing. So there’s clearly not equal pay in the White House when it comes to her and me,” he said during a 2015 town hall in Charlotte, N.C. (via CNN).
With Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking one gender barrier in the executive branch, maybe another regarding first lady salary is on the horizon?
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