Author Archives: Jessica Horning

Women’s Top Five Occupations on Equal Pay Day

equal pay day 2014

In celebration of Equal Pay Day, I looked up some facts on the top women’s jobs for the last year and what women and men working full time in those jobs earned.

In 2013, the top five women’s occupations, in order, were secretary or administrative assistant, registered nurse, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers, and nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides. These occupations account for slightly under 18% of all women working and slightly over 18% of women who work full time. The chart above shows the median annual earnings for men and women in each occupation- and men out-earn women in all five.

This is what the wage gap costs full time women workers in these occupations:

Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: Women make up 94% of secretaries and administrative assistants and earn 88% what men earn, a gap that costs women nearly $5,000 every year. If the wage gap were closed, women secretaries would be 14% more economically secure.

Registered Nurses: Ninety percent of registered nurses are women and women earn 88% of men’s wages. The gap costs women nurses approximately $7,800 annually. If women earned what men earned, it would increase their economic security 14%.

Elementary and Middle School Teachers: Women make up 81% of elementary and middle school teachers. The wage gap is smaller here- women earn 91% of what men make, but it still costs women over $4,500 per year. If the wage gap didn’t exist, women would be 9% more economically secure.

Cashiers: In 2011, women made up 74% of all cashiers, making this very close to becoming a “traditionally female” occupation (defined as those in which women make up 75% or more of the workforce), however the percentage has dropped since and is now 72%. Women cashiers make 89% of what their male counterparts earn, costing them over $2,400 annually. Without the wage gap, women cashiers would be 12% more economically secure.

Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides: Eighty-nine percent of home health aides are women. Women earn 90% of what men earn, costing them over $2,500 every year. Women home health aides would be 11% more economically secure without the wage gap.

It is interesting to note that four of the five top women’s occupations are in traditionally female fields- nursing, teaching, etc. – and even then, women earn less than their male counterparts. The wage gap is a structural problem that requires a structural solution. Congress’s inexcusable foot dragging on this issue is costing American families their economic security and American women the pay they’ve earned.

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Congressional Candidate: I Couldn’t Live at American Entry-Level Wages

Ron Leach, a Democrat running for Congress in Kentucky, decided to see for himself what the working conditions are like for blue collar workers. He worked an entry-level job at UPS loading packages into aircrafts in Louisville, Kentucky for a couple of months and has recently written about his experience. You can find his full account here. To sum up, he says that without his wife’s benefits and salary:

I could not have survived the past couple months at the “entry level” of America’s economy in which an increasing majority find themselves trapped.

He describes working conditions common to many in the US. The job is physical and involves some risk, although he says that UPS tried to mitigate that risk where possible. However, the job only paid $8.50 per hour and workers weren’t eligible for employer-based benefits for a year. The 2013 BEST wage for Louisville, Kentucky for a single worker with benefits is $13.31 per hour. Without benefits, that worker needs to earn $14.98 per hour just to cover basic expenses. The lack of employer-based benefits leaves workers to find their own insurance. The wages paid barely keep workers off of Medicaid, assuming full time work. They will all be eligible for heavy subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The need for health insurance is clear, as Leach notes several serious injuries among his coworkers, all new hires.

NELP estimates that more than one quarter of American workers make less than $10 per hour and EPI estimates that 28% of workers will be low-wage workers into the next decade.

We no longer have an economy that rewards hard work or playing by the rules.  We are increasingly becoming a nation of declining fortunes for the majority and a nation in which the American dream is increasingly beyond reach and social mobility is one direction – down – for a growing majority.  

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Unemployment Insurance is Necessary for an Economic Recovery

While we are reassured that the budget deal doesn’t contain any new taxes and rolls back some of the sequester cuts, it’s clear that the long-term unemployed will be left out in the cold. Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) expires on the 28th. While the unemployment rate continues to tick down, more than 37% of those currently unemployed and looking for work have been out of a job for at least six months. While the economy has picked up there are still three job applicants for every job opening.

The EUC is vitally important to the long-term unemployed- over 1/3 live in households below the poverty line. These are also the households that are the most likely to spend any money they receive in benefits quickly, giving a boost to the economy. Cutting these benefits will not only impoverish American families, but hurt the economic recovery.

Congress has never cut off EUC benefits when long-term unemployment was so high. It must not do it this time.

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Further SNAP Cuts Threaten the Economic Security of Poor Children for Decades

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the health impacts that income inequality has on poorer Americans. The congressional witnesses at that hearing specifically noted that children who are hungry have long-term health impacts, including higher risks of learning disabilities, anemia, asthma and higher rates of hospitalization. Twenty percent of households with children in the US don’t have enough to eat.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s best anti-hunger program. SNAP benefits helped 47 million people afford food last year and 72% of SNAP participants are in families with children. However, at the beginning of November of this year, Congress allowed the Recovery Act’s boost to the program to expire- cutting $5 billion from the program. As I wrote then, the cut to a three person family was the equivalent of losing 15 meals a month.

Two days ago, the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) proposed cutting another $8 to $9 billion from the program to get a deal on the budget with the House Agriculture Committee Chair.

The cuts today will have repercussions to the economic security of today’s children and tomorrow’s workers for decades. The health impacts will negatively affect how well the future workers can hold full time jobs and the heightened learning disabilities will keep the future workers from the educations they need to get ahead. We should not balance the budget on the backs of hungry children.

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Income Inequality is Killing Americans

This past week, Senator Sanders (I-VT) convened a hearing on the connection between physical health and material wealth. The Nation has an article up describing the testimony and the conclusions of the hearing:

“The lower people’s income, the earlier they die and the sicker they live,” testified Dr. Steven Woolf, who directs the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. In America, people in the top 5 percent of the income gradient live about nine years longer than those in the bottom 10 percent. It isn’t just access to care that poor Americans lack: first, they are more likely to get sick. Poor Americans are at greater risk for virtually every major cause of death, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As Woolf put it, “Economic policy is not just economic policy—it’s health policy.”

The experts highlighted a need for a more robust safety net to help shield people from the worst health effects of poverty. The article noted the long-term health effects of hunger, especially for children, in the US, where 1 in 6 families are food insecure.

As if to prove the point, McDonald’s has new suggestions out for how to survive on their low wage- they released a sample budget earlier in the year that didn’t include heating costs. The company recommends its workers take smaller bites when eating to feel fuller. Apparently, the low-cost restaurant didn’t seem to consider paying their employees enough to buy the food they sell.

Income inequality is killing Americans. It’s past time for our government to step in.

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Shocker: People Who Are Paid More Spend More

Wonkblog has an interesting piece up on the financial health of Macy’s and Wal-Mart and what that indicates for the larger economy. Macy’s took a big hit when the housing bubble burst in 2006 and continued to struggle through 2009, but has since recovered and is doing well. Wal-Mart did not see a big hit at any point- people always need the basics, after all- but has just posted its third straight decline in “comp sales,” “revenue from established stores compared to a year ago.”

The author posits that the divergence is explained by clientele; Macy’s attracts wealthier buyers, most of whom have fully recovered from the economic recession, while Wal-Mart attracts low and middle-class buyers, most of whom are still struggling. Wal-Mart executives hope that its new urban locations will attract wealthier buyers. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart’s low-paid workers continue to stage strikes and demonstrations for higher wages and more full-time positions.

Perhaps if Wal-Mart is feeling the pinch from lower-wage workers not having enough discretionary spending money, they could increase the pay of their low-wage workers? Businesses that rely on spending from low-wage workers would do well to remember that their own workers buy from them and can buy more if they are paid more.

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Congressional Disconnect on the Economy

While 75% of Americans rate the state of the economy poorly, households in the wealthiest 10% are feeling more positively about it since before the recession began. The economic sentiment index is up 22 points since spring, the highest it’s been since fall of 2007. Wonkblog points out that it’s hardly surprising that the wealthy believe the economy is doing well- the stock market is up 24% and unemployment among those with at least a bachelor’s degree is less than 4%- nearly half the overall unemployment rate. Here on WOW’s economic security blog, I wrote about how those with the most economic security had the smallest financial drop in the recession and the fastest recovery.

This is important because the top 10% includes many members of Congress. Nearly half of Congress is made up of millionaires- those with a net worth of at least $1 million. Months ago, Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post wrote about how Congress seemed to be slowing down on economic recovery because they and their friends weren’t feeling any economic pain.

From that perspective, it makes sense that Congress would cost the economy $24 billion in a government shutdown. It makes sense that Congress is arguing over how much to cut from SNAP- when economic analyses show that every $1 spent on SNAP benefits sees a return of about $1.70. It makes sense that Congress has spent the last month worrying about the Affordable Care Act rather than the economy.

The wealthy think the economy has mostly recovered and Congress is wealthy.

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SNAP Benefit Decrease Means a Lean Winter

Those at the bottom of the economic ladder are still hurting with an unemployment rate over 7% and the poverty rate stuck at 15% and it’s about to get harder. ARRA’s boost to SNAP benefits expires on November 1st and SNAP benefits will decrease. The maximum benefit will decrease by $29 per month for a family of three, $319 per year.

The decrease comes while Congress debates how much more to cut from the program and after a recent Census report stated that SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty last year. SNAP benefits are a vital resource to families trying to make ends meet. This cut in benefits means that a single parent with two children receiving the maximum benefit has $1.92 per person per meal in October and will have $1.82 per person per meal in November.  Eighty-three percent of SNAP benefits go towards vulnerable families- those with children, elderly, or disabled members.

This is the largest across the board benefits cut SNAP has ever had. The cut is the equivalent of the three person family losing 15 meals each month- 5 days with nothing to eat. This is on top of a recent report finding that the SNAP benefit calculation is based on out-dated assumptions, resulting in inadequate benefits, even before the cuts. When Cory Book famously took the “SNAP Challenge,” the Huffington Post ran the comments of people who were using food stamps:

Jennifer Waldron of Louisiana wrote: “I get the full amount of food stamps for my state and they are usually gone in two weeks. That’s with me eating beans and rice twice a week. It is nowhere near enough for those of us with very low incomes.”

Regardless of what Congress decides for the program, struggling families are going to have a lean winter.

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The Shutdown Will Continue to Negatively Impact Family Budgets

The government shutdown is over. Finally.

Standard & Poor’s estimates that the government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion. ThinkProgress has a list of other big government expenditure we could have spent the money on, such as the Child Tax Credit at $22.1 billion or Head Start, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program at $25.2 billion.

The budget deal couldn’t come too soon for those who rely on federal spending- one week ago, the Community Action Agency in Kent County, Michigan had advised seniors reliant on the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program to water down their milk. However, this shock to the economy will still be felt in family budgets for weeks, if not months. While federal workers will get back pay for the 2 ½ weeks they spent out of work, contractors won’t. One study estimates that the reliance on crises to drive the government has cost the economy nearly 1 million jobs.

Some news outlets are saying that the budget deal proves that Obama ‘won.’ Republicans are putting out messages on why they “won.” One this is clear, however: In this fiscal showdown, family budgets lost.

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Seattle Mayor Supports $15 per hour Minimum Wage

Seattle’s mayor has come out in favor of a city minimum wage of at least $15 per hour, roughly $31,200 per year. This is great news: this raise would put many workers closer to economic security.

It’s important to remember the impact the minimum wage has on families. Nearly one half (49.4%) of minimum wage workers are 25 or older; 64% of workers who earn the minimum wage or below are women. More than 35% of minimum wage workers work full time hours. Raising the minimum wage in Seattle would help Seattle women and children get closer to economic security, starting a virtuous cycle of inter-generational security.

The suggested minimum wage is only slightly lower than Seattle’s BEST wage for one worker of $15.86 per hour, $33,504 per year, for a worker with employment-sponsored benefits. While the dollar amount is higher for those without, the newly opened health care exchanges and tax credits will help to make up that difference. Poverty research has shown that the best way to combat poverty and increase economic security is to give unrestricted funds to those in poverty. The EITC has been a great example and I’m hopeful that Seattle’s pay raise will be another.

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