Older Women In the Workforce: Building Pathways to Economic Security

When Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) was conceived of in the 1960s –a period in which women began entering the workforce en masse– its mission was to make the labor market equally accessible to women. Today, those efforts have expanded to include building pathways to economic security for women, their families and seniors.

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the journey of older workers in the labor force across the years and the economic insecurity some face. Many older workers find themselves struggling financially and unprepared for retirement. The long-term unemployed, along with older workers who are recalibrating due to the economic downturn, job loss, children leaving the nest, divorce or other life changing events, often need assistance to return to the workforce or make a career change. Age discrimination and lack of access to retraining are barriers that impact the employability of older workers. Policies that promote the hiring of mature workers and integrate them in training programs (which typically tend to focus on Millennials and Generation Y), would go a long way toward moving this cohort into economic security.

WOW’s research on the needs and incomes of individuals aged 65+ and living independently in the community indicates that 45% of seniors– 40% of men and 49% of women– are economically insecure. Addressing this challenge over the long-term will require higher-paid work and new skills development for low wage workers –especially women. Workforce development assistance programs should aim to improve or augment the skills of older workers so that they will qualify for higher skilled, higher wage jobs. Women in particular would benefit from career counseling, education including vocational-technical programs and STEM initiatives, job training, and internships or apprenticeship programs for middle-skilled and high paying jobs.

Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides (direct-care workers) are among the fastest growing jobs – about 90% of which are filled by women.  In 2010, the average age of a direct-care worker was 42. One study estimates that “by 2018 …one third of personal care aides will be 55 and older, an increase from 22% in 2008.” Unfortunately, a $10.58 median hourly wage for all direct-care workers fails to provide a fair living wage. Therefore, this kind of work–while increasingly important for an aging society–is unlikely to be an answer to older women’s economic insecurity dilemma.

Among barriers to older women’s employment is the notion that older workers cannot contribute to the success of an organization. While discredited, this belief continues to produce age discrimination in the workplace. Yet an older worker is quite capable of adapting and mastering new skills, even those that are technology-related. A prospective employer might hesitate to invest in a 55-year old new hire out of concern that  s/he may not remain an employee for the next 15 – 20 years. However, neither will a younger hire. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, “median employee tenure was generally higher among older than younger ones…A larger portion of older workers than younger workers had 10 years or more of tenure.”

Communities and employers benefit when older workers are encouraged to remain in the workforce for as long as they are able and wish. It makes good business and economic sense to welcome and retain these employees. Middle-aged and older workers offer experience and expertise and they tend to be more professional, mature and loyal.

Although the age at which people qualify for full Social Security retirement benefits varies depending on the year they were born, life expectancy is longer than for previous generations –especially among women– and many will be mentally and physically capable of working through their 70s and sometimes their 80s. Working beyond 65 provides individuals with an opportunity to defer retirement, continue paying payroll taxes, delay accessing retirement funds and continue growing their savings and investments. Gainfully employed older individuals will not only increase their own economic security, but will reduce pressure and dependence on Social Security and other public support systems. Plus, according to the New York Academy of Medicine’s (NYAM) Age Smart Employer Compendium of Strategies and Practices, “longer work lives will generate increased consumer spending, which drives economic growth and new job creation.”

Investments in effective, expanded, multigenerational, and diverse public/private training, internships, apprenticeships, and education programs, along with nondiscriminatory hiring practices and workforce development systems, are crucial in maximizing the performance and productivity of workers of all ages. And a productive workforce is central to being able to compete as a nation in the globalized economy of the 21st century.


Data is History

If one had the time, she/he could probably tell the history of women since 1980, when President Carter recognized women’s history week, through 35 years of data and research studies. Modern women’s history is in part the history of creating new information to create a wider “circle of concern,” and to soften old, ossified notions of how women are faring, and what women can be.

The past two decades have produced generations of more accurate measures of financial well-being. Demand for metrics is broad-based, coming from advocates, progressive decision makers, and a public increasingly expecting to see numbers driving policy change and demonstrating impact. Both supply and demand of metrics have also increased in response to the advent of social media, which have created an expectation that pithy professional and political information will be regularly dispatched and responded to by political leaders, opinion leaders, advocates, academics and constituents. What used to be true for academics is now true for policy professionals: Publish or perish. This new compulsion is a curse to those who fear obsolescence, and a blessing for those on the lookout for new ways to break through the noise, to overcome “issue fatigue” and old conceptions of poor and poverty.

Over its 50-year history, WOW has sometimes led and sometimes joined the field in equipping those who care about women and families. In 1996, the Self-Sufficiency Standard became one of the first well-being measures developed within the American non-profit sector. WOW subsequently published the Elder Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index)—a  measure of the incomes older adults need to meet their basic needs, protect their health and age in their own homes—and the Basic Economic Security Tables Index (BEST Index), a contemporary investigation of the annual income and savings workers require for economic security across the lifespan. These budget standards ask and answer questions about what basic needs are and how much income modern households need. They can also be used to answer any number of questions so many of us want to answer in helping women, questions about “good jobs,” economic development, gender equity, the cost of abuse, public assistance programs, personal development, etc. Such questions lie at the intersection of so much good work and good data being produced by our sister women’s organizations and researchers across the country. It should also be noted that the Obama Administration’s recent devotion to data and drive to answer such questions is historic (see executive orders, the DOL Women’s Bureau, Middle Class in America).  

Frankly, sometimes women’s history month can seem passé, like on old concept, like more noise. But if we want women and families to continue to occupy a small portion of decision makers’ minds, we need to better arm ourselves with improved understanding of security challenges and facts on the ground, to better reflect the realities of more and more kinds of women, and to connect data to the personal narratives of those who suffer insecurity and petition for policy responses.  


NJ Elder Index Bill Blazes through State Senate

The New Jersey Senate moved quickly and unanimously today to advance elder economic security. By a vote of 39-0, Senators passed A3504/S2231, as reported out just a week before by the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee, following testimony by WOW and its partner, NJ Foundation for Aging (NJFA).

The NJ Assembly had passed the same bill by a near-unanimous vote on November 14th.  From here, it goes to the Governor’s desk for review and the hoped-for signature that would enact it into law.

The legislation requires the Department of Human Services to use and update the NJ Elder Index and related data, within the limits of available funds and resources, as a planning tool to improve the coordination and delivery of public benefits and services to older New Jerseyans. Loretta Weinberg, Senate Majority Leader, became a champion of the legislation early on, and worked across the aisle and across chambers—with  Assemblyman Joseph Lagana and other sponsors in the Assembly—to ensure that her colleagues understood the value and potential impact of using a more accurate measure of seniors’ financial condition and needs.

WOW and NJFA are delighted by the progress of this common sense bill. The use of the NJ Elder Index will contribute concretely to good stewardship of state human service dollars based on a clear picture of elders’ economic needs.

Say Yes to Elder Economic Security!


Herstory Matters: Break Down the Firewall for Women in IT

The first time history really made sense to me was in the seventh grade, when I first started learning about the struggle for women’s suffrage. I recognized that the story of the fight for the right to vote, and of the women who were leading it was inextricably linked to my life. We didn’t have a women’s history month then, and I didn’t realize how little of it would be part of my formal education. That’s why I still get excited when March rolls around and we get a whole month focused on women’s history- or as I prefer to call it, herstory.

I especially like International Women’s Day (IWD), because it links women across the world in recognition of the interconnectedness of our struggles across cultures, nations, races, and geography. I love knowing that IWD has its roots in the U.S. women’s trade union movement. March 8th was the date of two worker demonstrations, one of garment workers in 1857, and another fifty-one years later in 1908, of women in the needle trades. In each case women workers marched and picketed for better, safer working conditions and equal rights for women. This herstory is important to me because it serves as a reminder of the power of organizing to create social change. We still have a long way to go towards women’s full equality, especially in the workplace, but much of what these women fought for – an eight-hour day, women’s right to vote, and laws prohibiting child labor – are protections we now take for granted, at least in this country.

WOW’s history also is rooted in working women coming together and organizing for change. As we celebrate WOW’s 50th anniversary we have been digging up some of the stories of our founders that describe WOW’s evolution. It was in the seventies that WOW started to analyze the problems of occupational segregation by gender. This was a direct result of finding that traditional women’s jobs such as clerical and nurses’ aides did not offer wages that would lead women to economic security. It didn’t take long for it to be clear that it was in non-marginal jobs, jobs traditionally held by men, that women could find economic security. In addition to better wages, those jobs offered on the job training and future upward mobility. Not only did women embrace these new opportunities wholeheartedly, it signaled a profound shift for WOW, into the policy arena, where we began to fight to expand and enforce equal employment laws and to ensure that public employment and job training programs treated women equitably.

It wasn’t easy back then; there was resistance from employers, male workers, policymakers. WOW found that even the regulations requiring federal contractors to set goals and timetables for women’s inclusion in male-dominated jobs were often unenforced and public job training programs still segregated women into low-wage sectors. WOW crafted sex equity language for the Department of Labor that recognized that training funds could be used to address the needs of special populations, including women. It was known as the “WOW paragraph.”

Forty years later, WOW is still in the forefront of opening up nontraditional jobs to women and continuing to make herstory. While we can definitely point to progress, it is a bit alarming to look back at our history and realize we are still fighting some of the same battles WOW took on in the seventies and eighties. However, history reminds us of the example of our foremothers who fought for over sixty years for women’s suffrage. Although the change seems long in coming, the every little step and each one of our efforts brings us closer to equality. We are taking one of those steps this week as WOW tackles the low representation of women in IT.

Women were only 8.9 percent of hardware computer programmers and only 19 percent of software computer programmers in 2013. Nevertheless, with some reminders from our herstory we learn that these jobs haven’t always been difficult for women to enter. In fact, last year, WOW’s Matt Unrath posted a blog about the computer programmers history forgot – women. His blog, following an NPR report on the same topic, describes the roles of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Jean Jennings Bartik in the expansion of modern computing. We Facebooked, tweeted, and instagrammed the blog and our intern took a Vine of our CEO trying to send a Snap Chat thanking Matt for his post. And we can thank many of the women you can read about here for starting our culture down the path to that sentence even making sense to anyone!

As we enter the second full week of Women’s History Month, WOW is hosting the New Jersey Forum on Women in Information Technology at Essex County College. We’re bringing together experts in community college instruction, representatives from the workforce development system, members of local government, employers and students to address women’s underrepresentation in the IT sector. We won’t be marching and picketing in the streets like our foremothers, but we will be carrying on the struggle of women for good work and full equality in the workplace through education, coalition building and promoting effective strategies for equitable workforce training. Moreover, we will be encouraged by the knowledge of our herstory, that each of these steps matter!


America Saves – Or Not

The end of America Saves Week (February 23-28, 2015) should not be an excuse to suspend our efforts to (1) save, (2) spread the word on the importance of saving for retirement and other purposes, and (3) continue working to remove barriers to saving. Low and inadequate retirement savings and/or lack of access to 401(k)s, pensions, and other savings platforms result in increased dependence and pressure on our Social Security system. This is a crucial issue for all Americans, but especially for women. WOW’s research shows that half of all women age 65 and older living independently in the community experience economic insecurity—with much higher percentages for women of color.

There have been efforts on both the national and state levels to address barriers to saving for retirement—with uneven results. For example:

  • In response to data showing that “one third of people (36%) in the U.S. have nothing saved for retirement”, and “14% of people ages 65 and older have no retirement savings”, the US Department of Treasury launched the myRA savings program in December, 2014 –a no fee, no hidden cost account–intended to provide a “simple, safe, and affordable retirement savings option” for working Americans.
  • In February 2015, President Obama announced that he had asked the Department of Labor to modernize its rules under ERISA to ensure that investment advisers do not offer financial advice tainted by  conflict of interest, and that they put  hardworking Americans’ interests first. It is estimated that $17 billion is lost each year due to conflicted investment advice.
  • In January 2014, a bill was introduced in West Virginia’s legislature to establish the West Virginia Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts (VERA) Program, which would expand access to retirement plans to all employees and employers who wish to participate. According to H. B. 4375  nearly fifty percent of West Virginia workers have no access to employer-based retirement plans. However, despite vigorous advocacy by West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP) and other groups, opposition led by the insurance industry prevailed and the legislation died.
  • The Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Agenda (WESA), a multi-issue campaign mounted by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium—another WOW partner—and other advocates, resulted in legislation that included creation of a Minnesota Secure Choice Retirement Savings Plan.  In February 2014, HF 2419 and its companion Senate bill, SF 2078, were introduced to establish such a plan; in the end, however, only a study of the issue was commissioned.
  • In January 2015, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill creating the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act. The Act is intended to promote “greater retirement savings for private-sector employees in a convenient, low-cost, and portable manner.”
  • In March 2012, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed a bill into law that provides retirement options for nonprofit organizations. This new law’s effective date was January 1, 2014 and applies to the “not-for-profit employer “who employs “not more than 20 persons…”

Having access to retirement savings plans/programs during one’s working years, and being assured of non-biased investment advice by financial advisors can make a big impact on economic security in retirement.  WOW commends and joins with those at the state and national levels who are working to bring these reforms about.


WOW Has Been Advocating for Workplace Flexibility for 50 Years!

As we kick off Women’s History Month this week, it is interesting to look back on WOW’s own history, and how at many points we were quite a bit ahead of our time!  One interesting find I came across is a book that WOW’s founders published in 1967. Washington Opportunities for Women: A Guide to Part-time Work and Study, emerged from discussions that women in Washington DC were having – the  challenges of integrating work and family; how to return to the labor market after time off to raise children; finding ways to complete or achieve further education; and creating workplace practices that can help women succeed. The findings in the book were based a survey completed by 3,000 women in Washington, DC and covered industries from law, government, teaching to science and technology.  And it ended with a concluding chapter on “new skills”—including computer programming! Quite innovative and forward thinking for the 1960’s.

As a researcher dedicated to these issues it was quite amazing to see that, while not using the word “workplace flexibility,” our founders’ book was actually all about workplace flexibility.  The authors wrote that workplace practices must be adapted so that women can integrate work, family and education.   While the authors looked to part-time work opportunities as one significant solution to these challenges—they stressed the importance high quality jobs, and how even in the male dominated fields of science and engineering, women cannot only make a significant contribution, but the workplace can be organized in ways to encourage women to enter these jobs and stay in them.

Close to 50 years after the publication of this groundbreaking book, WOW continues to support policy and workplace practices that offer real flexibility so that women can be both productive workers and family members.  And while advances have been made to improve opportunities for women, many women—particularly those in low wage hospitality and retail jobs—finds that workplace flexibility eludes them.

In fact, for low wage hospitality and retail workers, flexibility often means having control over one’s schedule.  In 2011 WOW partnered with Social Dynamics to produce a series of literature reviews for the US Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, on workplace flexibility in several different low-wage industries.   In my research on restaurant workers  I found that much of their workday is characterized by “just-in-time scheduling”.  This means that many service industries, including retail and hospitality, attempt to keep costs down and profits high by achieving a tight fit between labor supply and labor demand. This scheduling practice means that both the number of hours and timing of those hours can change day to day, week to week, and season to season at the discretion of management.

This creates unpredictability for workers, as they may have to work different hours and different days each week with no set time off. Working hours at these nonstandard times creates stress for workers and their families. Often child care options are not available, forcing workers to find alternative arrangements, such as informal childcare with friends and family. While this option may always be difficult given the last-minute nature of the request, friends’ and families’ own busier schedules may make it impossible when workers need informal networks the most. This system of scheduling also complicates the ability for workers to plan for anything other than work—be it a doctor’s appointment, child care or a family dinner.  And when working hours differ from children’s school times, it drastically reduces the amount of time families can spend together eating meals or helping with homework. These volatile scheduling practices are a result of employers establishing work schedules based primarily on their concerns for fluctuating customer traffic.  These “just-in-time” management practices have placed the costs of inconsistent customer demand on retail’s lowest paid and most vulnerable workers.

Congress is currently considering The Schedules that Work Act that seeks to address these problems by giving employees the ability to request changes to their work schedules without fear of retaliation. As well, it seeks to give workers in certain industries known to have erratic scheduling practices more predictable and stable schedules

Some of the important provisions for workers include –

  • Employers must provide employees with their schedules at least two weeks in advance.
  • Once the schedule has been posted two weeks in advance, an employer must provide one extra hour of pay for each shift that is changed with less than 24 hours notice to the worker. If the reason for a shift change is the unexpected unavailability of an employee scheduled to work (e.g. another worker takes a sick day), the employer does not have to pay the extra hour.
  • If any employee reports to work for a scheduled shift but is sent home before the end of the shift, s/he must receive a minimum of four hours of pay at the employee’s regular rate, or pay for the entire shift if it is less than four hours.
  • If an employee is required to call-in for a shift but is not given any work, s/he must receive at least one hour of pay.
  • An employee must receive an extra hour of pay for each split shift s/he is required to work.

Schedule control and workplace flexibility are important aspects of economic security that WOW advocates—and clearly has been advocating for during the past 50 years.  Perhaps 2015 will be the year when our founders’ vision will be closer to being realized, and all workers will have Schedules that Work.

Check out WOW"s first book in 1967

Check out WOW”s first book in 1967



The Consequences of Childhood Victimization on Safety and Future Economic Security

Earlier this week, I was honored to give the opening address at the Shenandoah Valley Multidisciplinary Conference: Strengthening the Response to Sexual Assault presented by the Collins Center. My remarks were on the economic aspects and complications of violence and abuse and why they are particularly challenging for the youngest victims of sex abuse. This is an important issue that unfortunately has not been a focus of anti-violence work and I am thrilled to see more organizations around the country interested in adopting this economic lens.

Childhood victimization is costly both in the immediate aftermath of abuse and in terms of long-term economic consequences. Some of these costs are incurred by the families of the victim and some by the victim him or herself.

CSA CostsFamily economic insecurity can greatly limit available options to keep a victim of child sex abuse (CSA) safe or provide them with the necessary supports to recover. The short-term health costs – including both physical and mental health needs – are estimated to be $32,648. While some of these expenses may be covered by insurance, there are still deductibles and co-pays that must be meet and often mental health services are limited or not fully covered. In addition, studies have found that children who experience abuse are significantly more likely to need special education than children who were not abused. This average cost was found to be $7,999 over the course of one’s school years. There are also legal fees, potential costs of relocating, and lost wages or job if a parent needs to take time to care for their child and doesn’t have access to leave. Families that are struggling to get by may not be able to get their child these much needed services or may face significant financial hardship in doing so. Accessing these resources and getting the appropriate support early is critical to help minimize the long-term effects of CSA.

Experiencing trauma so early in life can also have deep ripple effects on victims’ health, brain development, ability to develop relationships and on future social and economic success. A study of sexually abused 7-12 year-old girls found startling effects of abuse on their academic performance. Nearly 40% of victims reported academic difficulties, 24% repeated a grade, 48% reported below average grades and more than 37% displayed cognitive ability below the 25th percentile. These poor education outcomes lead to poor employment outcomes and lower future earnings. Abused children are less likely to hold “skilled” jobs or be employed. Low skilled jobs often offer minimum wages and have no benefits that are necessary for safety and economic security such as sick or family leave, group health insurance and retirement contributions. Furthermore, these jobs are often subject to unpredictable schedules which make it difficult to secure stable childcare or take advantage of education and training opportunities that could help individuals break the cycle of low-wage work. One study found that survivors of CSA earn $5,000 less a year than peers who have not experienced CSA. These gaps are surely more profound for women and minorities as a result of the wage gap. These lower earnings not only undermine a survivors ability to be economically secure today but it also compounds over time, increasing the likelihood they will live in poverty as seniors. In addition to an inability to save for retirement, lower earnings mean lower social security benefits. This is very worrisome for the nearly 75% of single seniors who depend on Social Security for all or most of their income.

In total, these  lifetime costs are estimated to be $195,537 per victim, which is still a narrow look at the potential costs victims face. When considering the financial effects of unwanted or planned pregnancy and parenthood, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol or drug abuse – all consequences of abuse and trauma – the resulting vulnerability can leave victims of CSA economically insecure across the lifespan. It is important that direct service providers, justice system professionals and policymakers recognize these economic barriers to safety and recovery, and respond with appropriate interventions and support to help survivors of CSA lead full and healthy lives free from the consequences of abuse.


Service Organizations and African American Women

Since 1976, every US president has designated the month of February as Black History Month, or National African American History Month, to celebrate the achievements of African Americans and to recognize their central role in US history. Countless organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have been involved in the fight against violence in these communities over the last 20 years, including the drafting of national legislation like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). However, despite policy advancements at all levels of government, women of color in general and  African American women in particular still experience the highest reported rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country. As a result of these heightened rates of violence, it is imperative that women of color have access to and feel comfortable seeking out social services support and resources, especially resources that provide the financial help that is critical to a survivor’s wellbeing.

Purple R.E.I.G.N., a social services organization in New Jersey, was established in 2008 to provide “multi-disciplinary empowerment services and preventative strategies to victims of domestic violence.” The organization’s founder, Asia Smith, is an African American woman who, after overcoming a near-deadly relationship, started Purple R.E.I.G.N. to serve survivors and find solutions to the critical issues that they face. The organization offers support through legal services, relocation services, therapy, safety planning, career and education workshops, fitness and nutrition training, parenting classes, and financial empowerment classes.  Purple R.E.I.G.N. also employs a largely Black staff, which allows them to reach out to women who might feel uncomfortable or alienated in many other service facilities.

The Women of Color Network (WOCN) is also focused on helping survivors from underserved communities of color. Active within the violence against women movement since 1997, they educate women of color through leadership trainings, mentor programs and technical assistance, as well as provide statistics and research about sexual and domestic violence specific to these communities . They also work to create policy change in partnership with other gender- and violence-focused organizations, coalitions and government programs. Especially important is their work pertaining to economic justice, which has led to the release of five new reports from the field: Tribal Sexual Assault, T and U Visas, Policy Advocacy, Reentry, and Strengthening Services. These papers focus on the overarching economic barriers facing survivors of violence and how we can all respond through enhanced policies, programs, and advocacy to ensure survivor safety and economic access.

Even with the support provided by organizations such as these, there are still many African American women who do not feel comfortable leaving their abusive relationships because of negative social and economic issues. In an article published by The Grio, clinical psychologist Dr. Nathilee A. Caldeira states that there is a socioeconomic divide within the African American community and that divide correlates to exposure to community violence. She claims, “because of the need to cope with stressors that are related to basic survival, socio-economically disadvantaged African American women may give the risk of intimate partner violence less importance. That in turn places them at greater risk of severe violence and death.” Experts like Dr. Caldeira and activists like Smith focus on the factors that contribute to the perpetration of violence in order to prevent further violence and educate women out of these abusive situations. Economic resources must also be provided in conjunction with education in order to facilitate escape from abuse and long-term independence.

For more information on the economic and safety needs of African American survivors, resources these organizations provide and how you can get involved, visit Purple R.E.I.G.N. and the Women of Color Network’s websites as well as WOW’s Survivors of Color and Economic Security brief from the Population Policy Series.


Wider Opportunities for Women Welcomes New Rulemaking to Strengthen Americans’ Retirement Security

Proposed DOL Rule will provide important new protections for all savers, but will particularly benefit women

 Washington, DC, February 23, 2015 – Wider Opportunities for Women, a leading advocate for women’s equity, empowerment and economic security across the lifespan, commends action by the Department of Labor (DOL) to advance a major rule proposal that addresses loopholes in protections for Americans saving for retirement.

For over 50 years, WOW has worked to help women gain access to jobs that enable them to adequately support themselves and their families, including through nontraditional occupations for women. Older women face a substantial gender income gap reflecting pay inequities and experiences during their working years. WOW’s research shows that half of all women age 65 and older living independently in the community experience economic insecurity—with much higher percentages for women of color. When women manage to save and invest even a small amount for their retirement years, it is crucial that the financial advisers they consult put their clients’ interests first. The Department of Labor’s common sense rulemaking is urgently needed so that all Americans receive unbiased retirement investment advice.

The Department of Labor has engaged in extensive analysis and outreach in developing this proposed rule, which reflects a commitment to protect workers’ hard-earned retirement savings from conflicted investment advice. Currently, loopholes in the law allow firms and individuals to present financial advice based on what’s best for their own bottom lines, not their customers’.

Once final, we are confident that the Department’s retirement security rule will strengthen protections for Americans when they receive retirement savings advice. All Americans, both women and men, deserve the peace of mind that their savings are being maximized for a financially independent, dignified retirement.

WOW’s Elder Economic Security Initiative Director, Jo Reed attended the event today, where President Obama announced that he was asking the Department of Labor to update the rules for retirement advice. WOW thanks the Department of Labor for moving ahead to protect hardworking Americans saving for retirement. We look forward to the rule proposal’s timely review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and to weighing in on the substance of the rule proposal when it is published in the Federal Register for public comment.


CONTACT: Jo Reed, Director, Elder Economic Security Initiative; 202.464.1596; jreed@wowonline.org


It’s Time to Pass Federal Paid Sick Days Legislation

A stomach bug is going around our offices, a pretty aggressive, stick with you for days, stomach bug. Luckily, only three people in the office got sick. That’s because at WOW, we earn paid sick days. We have a culture – and a CEO that emphasizes it – that if we’re sick, it’s better for everyone if we take time to recuperate and return once we’re feeling better and not contagious. It’s better for our organization’s new mom that she doesn’t bring the germs home to her new – and painfully adorable – son. It’s better for the dad on our team who has two – so twice the adorable – kids with more energy than most parents can handle healthy, let alone with the flu. It’s better for our staff who take care of elderly parents—where if they catch the flu, it could be a death sentence for the senior family members. It’s better for our team members who work out of state and works out of our DC office regularly – I can’t even imagine the drive home to NJ with a stomach bug.  And it is better for our colleagues—no one wants us to attend meetings while coughing!


Our staff’s ability to earn and utilize paid sick leave is what has kept the rest of our team healthy, productive, and engaged.


Right now, I’m one of the privileged workers in our country. Nearly 40% of the workforce doesn’t earn paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act would rectify this absurd injustice. Yesterday, Senator Murray and Representative DeLauro reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (HFA). This version of the bill builds on previous versions, with some important additions that can even further help working families achieve and maintain economic security – even when sick.


Like previous versions, the HFA will allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave days a year. The bill contains provisions to ensure workers’ jobs are protected when they take this leave. The sick days are earned paid leave for workers in organizations with more than 15 employees. For smaller companies, the bill proposes earning seven unpaid days of leave – with the job protection provisions also included.


Notably for WOW’s work, this latest version of the bill includes a provision that allows victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to use paid sick days for recovery or for seeking help around an instance of violence. According to WOW’s Economic Security for Survivorsresearch, the average survivor of sexual assault misses 7 days of work a year.  Passage of the Healthy Families Act would ensure survivors won’t be fired or lose important wages for addressing issues that arise related to their sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.


In addition to HFA’s incredible potential to protect economic security for working families, the bill also ensures increased productivity due to reducing community contagion and reductions in health care costs.  And WOW’s original research with the Restaurant Opportunities Centers graphically demonstrated how important paid sick days are for the workers who serve us our food and drinks.  We found that 90 percent of the restaurant workers we surveyed had NO access to paid sick days. Perhaps, not surprisingly then,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced 53% of norovirus outbreaks, and possibly up to 82%, to infected and contagious food workers. Further, according to Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than half of projected $1.1 billion (with a B!) savings from a reduction in emergency room visits would come in the form of savings to taxpayer-funded health insurance programming. So, not only do the folks getting sick maintain higher levels of economic security – even those lucky folks who claim they never get sick can benefit from this proposed legislation.


And the great thing about this legislation – we already know it works and that it’s something policy makers on both sides of the aisle can support. Cities and states across the country (California, Massachusetts, Connecticut , Seattle, WA, Tacoma, WA, just last week– Philadelphia, PA, just to name a few) have passed similar legislation with both business and bipartisan support.


It’s time to pass this important legislation for workers, our communities, and our country.