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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Raise The Wage For Women’s Economic Security and Workplace Safety

On this Valentine’s Eve, Wider Opportunities for Women and our partner organizations mark yet another year where tipped restaurant workers have NOT had a raise in the $2.13 subminimum wage — a wage that was legislated back in 1991.  Living off tips not only contributes to high levels of economic insecurity for workers and their families; it also makes all workers, and in particular women, vulnerable to a great deal of inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and management. Last year in collaboration with the Restaurant Opportunities CenterForward Together, and several other organizations, Wider Opportunities for Women released the report The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry.  This report dramatically detailed how sexual harassment is endemic to the restaurant industry.  One of the most important findings is that the tipping structure – where workers are paid a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour—creates an environment and a dynamic that actually fosters sexual harassment as part of the work environment.

Among some of the more powerful stats we found:  Two-thirds of female workers and over half of male workers had experienced some form of sexual harassment from management; nearly 80% of women and 70% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers; and nearly 80% of women and 55% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from customers.  And ALL restaurant workers in states that have a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, report higher rates of sexual harassment, than workers in states that pay a higher minimum wage.  These workers are solely dependent on tips for their income- and therefore more vulnerable to abusive behaviors from managers, co-workers and customers. This striking finding highlights the importance of raising the minimum wage to address in order to violent and abusive behaviors in the restaurant workplaces.

Clearly the subminimum wage places all women restaurant workers in precarious positions in the workplace.  But for one group of workers—women who are survivors of domestic violence—this insecurity is particularly heightened.  For survivors, the ability to work is essential for their safety and independence; however, their work environment may not always be safe. While it is well known that abusers interfere with a survivor’s ability to work and can bring violence to the workplace, sexual harassment within the workplace also creates a hostile environment and can further traumatize survivors.

Recognizing the challenges survivors face in the workplace, it is necessary to empower survivors with the knowledge they need to identify when sexual harassment occurs and what their options are to address harassment.  To this purpose WOW will be hosting a webinar on February 25th at 2pm EST to share information about sexual harassment and survivors, including the experiences of restaurant workers. Spaces are still available to participate in this webinar, and I encourage you to RSVP here.

So on this Valentine’s Eve, we hope  you to support of the tipped workers in the US by advocating to raise the wage, address sexual harassment in the workplace and help ensure all women have the opportunity to achieve economic security.

Source: ROC, 2014

Source: ROC, 2014

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Revenge Porn and Why Cyber-Assault Matters for Teens

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and Break the Cycle is providing great resources about preventing dating violence among teens and events being held throughout the month. However, the campaign does not discuss one of the newest forms of cyber-assault—revenge porn. Revenge porn started in the 1980s with Hustler magazine, but began to gain attention and popularity in the mid-2000s with Sergio Messina’s identification of “realcore pornography”—explicit photos and videos of ex-girlfriends shared without their consent. In 2010 Hunter Moore launched a website featuring user-submitted pornography, except the content posted to his site was often accompanied by identifying information such as full names, home and work-place addresses, links to social networking accounts and phone numbers.

In 2012, activists got involved through the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s first campaign, End Revenge Porn. End Revenge Porn was started by Dr. Holly Jacobs, a victim of revenge porn for three and a half years, during which law enforcement and the FBI were unable to file criminal charges against her perpetrator because there were technically no laws against what he was doing. As a result of her constant victimization, Jacobs was forced to change jobs, go through several email address, legally change her name, deactivate all of her social media accounts, cancel her attendance to professional meetings and refrain from publishing in her field. Unfortunately, these are common consequences associated with revenge porn that have long-term economic impacts. Revenge porn is not only socially, emotionally and professionally damaging to its victims, but when personal information is shared, such as the information posted on Moore’s website, this non-consensual pornography can also be physically threatening. Sharing an individual’s personal information can lead to stalking, sexual assault and rape, especially if the identifying information is posed as a “challenge” or posed as the perspective of the victim seeking to fulfill a rape fantasy.

An online survey conducted by CCRI found that up to 80% of revenge porn victims took the offending photographs themselves—in other words, 80% of revenge porn is the result of an angry or jealous ex posting graphic images that the victim should legally own the rights to. This speaks volumes to the lack of privacy that comes with “selfies” and “sexting,” the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone, which was recently deemed an epidemic among teens in America. Sexting is not new, but with the explosion of technology and social media, the consequences can be life-long. These consequences, just like those experienced by Jacobs, are often disregarded by teens. While many anti-sexting campaigns focus on embarrassment and ruined reputations, there is also a severe economic risk associated with both sexting and revenge porn that is often overlooked. Just as with Dr. Jacobs, revenge porn can affect victims’ professional standing which in turn affects their economic security while isolating them from their support system due to embarrassment. 

Dr. Michael Salter and Associate Professor Thomas Crofts write that in 2012, after rumors of an FBI investigation likely brought about by the End Revenge Porn campaign, Moore closed his website. While the End Revenge Porn campaign has spurred FBI investigations, the legislative and judicial systems still have a lot of work to do. As of January 5, 2015, sixteen states—NJ, AK, TX, CA, ID, UT, WI, VA, GA, AZ, MD, CO, HI, PA, DE, IL—have enacted legislation that treats nonconsensual pornography itself as a crime, while other states use tort, privacy and copyright laws to prosecute perpetrators of revenge porn. Additional cases can be made for harassment, stalking, identity theft, and possession as well as distribution of child pornography if the images show a minor, which includes most teenagers.  However, many of these laws suffer from narrow applicability and/or constitutional weakness. While there are not any federal laws prohibiting revenge porn, CCRI is working with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) to draft a law doing just that.

For more information on how you can get involved with anti-revenge porn movements visit, http://www.endrevengeporn.org/.

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Budgeting for an Equity Agenda: Job Training and Apprenticeship Shine in President’s 2016 Budget

WOW’s National Center for Women’s Employment Equity offers research and technical assistance that demonstrates that providing opportunities for women to prepare for and enter nontraditional occupations are real routes to economic security. Our analysis of the President’s 2016 budget, which makes investments in job creation, apprenticeship, training, transportation and education, concludes that it offers great promise in this area.  We caution, however, that without a specific gender targeted and inclusive equity agenda, women can have a hard time finding the entry ramps to these good career pathways and job training opportunities and face barriers to moving forward and having success in nontraditional jobs.  The President’s proposals must address the issues women face in the workforce in order for this proposed budget to truly work to help women find economic security.

 

For instance, the budget emphasizes the importance of expanding programs, the passage and corresponding implementation of the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), support for policies to help all Americans have access to free two-year college education, expansion of apprenticeship and on-the-job training opportunities,  as well as investments to address the country’s dire need for infrastructure improvements and an unprecedented initiative to expand and elevate the American manufacturing industry.

 

The President’s budget includes the Administration’s goal to double the number of apprenticeships over the next five years. Apprenticeship and on the job training offer a sound pathway to economic security.  We’d love to see a corresponding goal to significantly increase women’s participation in apprenticeship – and we know that both goals and targeted resources can set the stage for meeting these goals.

 

But one of those targeted resources, the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO), is the only federal funding source dedicated to women’s access to high wage, high skill nontraditional careers and is zeroed out of the President’s budget. The corresponding DOL 2016 budget justification, however, commits to a continuation of WANTO’s goals throughout the application of DOL technical assistance to the workforce development system. This TA, if explicitly targeted to address gender, could be one mechanism for truly moving the needle on women’s stagnant (and abhorrently low – 2.6%!) participation in apprenticeship.

 

 

In addition to job creation, the President’s 2016 budget proposals would invest heavily in WIOA implementation and expansion of resources for American Job Centers. WOW’s Senior Scholar, Mary Gatta, wrote All I Want is a Job!,released this summer by Stanford University Press, detailing her experience undercover in the workforce development system. The passage of WIOA in 2014 and the President’s proposed $500 million increase in investment over 2014 levels for career counseling would help eradicate many of the barriers Mary describes in her harrowing exploration of overworked frontline staff, under resourced American Jobs Centers, and frustrated job seekers. Further investment proposed to double the number of workers trained for growing sectors by our workforce development system would revitalize our system and provide vital pathways to economic security for women and their families.

 

The workforce system is critical to helping people enter the labor market, and proposed educational investments can help further prepare this workforce.  The President’s proposal to make 2-year community college programs free to students maintaining certain eligibility and a $2 billion investment in the American Technical Training Fund within the Career and Technical Education program will open educational doors previously closed to many women across the country. Here again, setting aside specific targeted resources to expand women and girls’ career exposure, preparation and support is essential.

 

Finally, the President’s proposed investments in infrastructure are critical to expanding job opportunities for thousands of workers – including women. The proposed $478 billion six year surface transportation reauthorization would fund jobs like the one Ledaya Epps has as a laborer on the project to expand light rail from the LA Metro to Los Angeles International Airport. But for Ledaya, who was the First Lady’s guest at this year’s State of the Union, the route into the industry wasn’t easy. It was support and training she got at Women in Nontraditional Employment Role’s (WINTER) pre-apprenticeship program that made her a competitive candidate. WINTER, a WOW subgrantee on our Opportunities for Women in Nontraditional Employment Initiative, is one of 14 programs across the country NCWEE brings together in building strategic and targeted practices and policies for the recruitment, enrollment, placement and retention of women in non-traditional jobs. Ensuring that funding for this kind of training and support needs to be a vital part of infrastructure investments and will boost women’s participation in these high-wage, high-skill jobs.

 

 

We applaud the President’s commitment to our nation’s critical workforce development issues and support for women’s economic security, and coupled with the DOL’s 2016 budget, we are hopeful that 2016 will offer increased opportunities for women in the workforce.

 

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Elder Economic Security and the FY2016 Budget

Older adults will find much to cheer about in President Obama’s just-released 2016 budget—and a few reasons to be concerned. Given WOW’s research findings that nearly half of fully-retired, elder-only households are economically insecure, budget proposals regarding federal programs that support seniors are critical.

Elder women–and women of color in particular–suffer markedly higher levels of economic insecurity, and have been heavily impacted by severe cuts in these programs in recent years. The President’s rejection of sequestration as “mindless austerity” is a welcome opportunity to begin restoring some of the losses in these programs.

We are also pleased by the Administration’s continued efforts to address the retirement savings crisis through proposals for auto-enrollment IRAs and access to retirement plans for part-time workers. Building retirement security is especially important for older women, who are significantly disadvantaged by the long-term effects of occupational segregation, interrupted work to provide care to children or elderly parents, and pay inequity, among other factors.

Other features of note in the budget :

Older Americans Act. The budget sustains core programs that assist older adults and people of all ages with disabilities. New funding is provided for home and community-based services, such as assistance with daily activities, rides to the doctor, pharmacy and grocery store, and adult day services.  Increases are also provided for senior nutrition programs—both congregate and home-delivered meals. In addition, an increase is proposed for Elder Rights Support activities to protect vulnerable older adults from abuse and exploitation.

Social Security. No cuts are proposed in Social Security and the budget would transfer some desperately needed tax revenue from the retirement (Old-Age and Survivors Insurance) trust fund to the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund. Lacking replenishment, the DI fund will abruptly reduce benefits to individuals with disabilities in 2016. Reallocation between the funds has been done 11 times before, and this one would not significantly worsen Social Security’s larger solvency challenge. The transfer provision is a rebuke to House Republicans who passed a new rule in their rules package governing the 114th Congress to prevent such action unless the overall Social Security/DI solvency problem was addressed—pitting retirees against those with disabilities and setting the stage for “crisis” action that could result in poorly conceived “reforms” in Social Security.

The budget makes no reference to the chained consumer price index (C-CPI), an alternative formula for updating Social Security payments that would actually cut benefits. The Administration had included the C-CPI in its FY2014 budget, so its absence in the current plan is good news. Advocates will be watching for any reappearance of this proposal in the budget debate to come.

Medicare. The schedule for closing the Medicare Part D “donut hole” for brand drugs is sped up in this budget, targeting 2017 rather than 2020. The proposal, which builds on savings already achieved through the Affordable Care Act, would lower drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. The Secretary is also given new authority to negotiate with manufacturers to reduce prices for high cost drugs and biologics covered under Part D. On the other hand, costs to beneficiaries would rise through a co-payment for new Medicare beneficiaries who receive home health care services and a surcharge on premiums for some. Higher premiums, deductibles and co-payments represent a cost-shift to beneficiaries that is opposed by senior advocates.

It is common to dismiss the President’s budget as DOA—dead on arrival—given the Republican majorities in the US House and Senate. But he has set forth a framework to which Congress and stakeholders must react. Its full impact is yet unknown—and it’s too soon for last rites.

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