Author Archives: Mary Gatta, Ph.D.

Women Veterans Are Still Fighting For Economic Security

We celebrate Veteran’s Day by honoring the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made.  Yet it is equally important to honor their service by ensuring that they have routes to economic security when they return from their service.  However, this latter celebration is still not a reality for all veterans.

Recently released US Bureau of Labor Statistics data highlights some significant challenges that women veterans face upon their return.  While the good news is that the overall unemployment rate fell for male and female veterans over the past year, the bad news is that the unemployment rate for Gulf-War era II veterans remained strikingly high. And even more troubling is that within that group the unemployment rate for women is almost double that of male veterans (6.2 percent for men and 11.2 percent for women).

Source: US BLS, 2014

Source: US BLS, 2014

This data is quite alarming.  Younger female veterans are returning from their service only to find themselves without jobs and far from economic security.  This is unacceptable. We need to invest in employment and training programs, along with supportive services, that provide routes for female veterans to transition to career pathways.  One such route is access to nontraditional occupations (NTO)—such as those in the sciences, building trades, and technology. Women continue to be underrepresented in these fields, and these are industries that offer economic opportunities. Women veterans are particularly poised to succeed in these training programs and jobs.  Many of the technical expertises they mastered while in military service could transfer to work in NTO.  In addition, women veterans have also gained important skills navigating a traditionally male workplace, and prepare them for NTO.

So yes, we should celebrate our veterans’ accomplishments today, but tomorrow we need to fight for their economic security on the home front. The new unemployment data—with its clear gender disparities—must be a call to action for all of us to work to ensure that on Veterans Day in 2015 we will have lowered veteran’s unemployment rates and closed the significant gender unemployment rate gap.  The best celebration will be that of true economic security for the women who have sacrificed so much.


Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs

Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs


Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ seniors face some of the highest living costs in the nation, and do so with incomes that have not kept pace with increases in the costs of basic needs such as housing, health care and food.  These economic challenges are experienced across demographic groups.  In collaboration with the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans (MAOA), our Elder Economic Security state partner, we conducted a series of focus groups with a group of seniors whose experiences are often marginalized—LGBT seniors.   Our new report, Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts, presents a snapshot of lived experiences of this group of seniors “struggling to get by” in the current economic climate, illuminating individuals’ challenges and the ways they make ends meet. In addition we explore perceptions, knowledge and experiences of the potential economic benefits to LGBT couples as a result of Windsor v United States. The end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) made previously denied economic protections and responsibilities–including Social Security survivor benefits, family and medical leave, and the ability to pool resources as a family without unfair taxation–available to married same-sex couples.  Finally we conclude with both research and policy recommendations aimed at improving the economic security of LGBT seniors in the state.

Among our findings we found both commonalities and differences between LGBT seniors and other seniors; along with differences within the LGBT senior demographic.  Not surprisingly, economic insecurity exists within the LGBT community; and some of the challenge is not unique to LGBT subpopulation. In our focus groups, LGBT participants identified housing, health care and food costs, along with having inadequate savings, as key barriers to economic security in Massachusetts.  These economic concerns cross many demographic groups in the state.

However participants did express some concerns specific to the LGBT community that exacerbated their economic insecurity, and also raised concerns about aging. Specifically they reported that discrimination against LGBT individuals during their working years (particularly access to promotions) impacted the amount of retirement savings they could accumulate and the Social Security payments they later received. In addition, the prevalent stereotype that members of the LGBT community, and particularly gay men, are rich, impacts their ability to communicate their economic insecurity. They also reported that in regard to the overturning of DOMA, many participants expressed uncertainty about newly available public benefits and how to access them. Other significant concerns were raised about the dignity in the aging process as an LGBT senior.  Participants raised concerns about having to go “back in the closet” if they need to be placed into a nursing home because of perceived homophobia among staff.  Finally, participants also reported they were not as likely to have children (although they did feel future LGBT generations will be more likely to have children); so there is concern about who is going to care for them as they age.

There is much work that needs to be done in order to ensure that LGBT seniors can age in place with economic security and dignity in Massachusetts and throughout the country.  While our research is intended to provide a snapshot of the experiences of LGBT seniors dealing with economic security and insecurity as they age in Massachusetts, we highlighted several issues that demand more in-depth research and other issues that require policy and programmatic change, particularly concerning public benefits and dignity in health care facilities.

You can access the full report on our website:  Struggling to Get By: Economic Insecurity and LGBT Seniors in Massachusetts


All I Want is A Job – Our Labor Market and the Search for Economic Security

Welcome to the re-employment seminar; you are all required to be in this seminar because the unemployment office thinks you will have a really hard time finding a job in this economy.”

Imagine hearing those words right after you were laid off in one of the US’s deepest recessions.  Well that is exactly what WOW’s Senior Scholar, Mary Gatta, heard when she went undercover as an unemployed worker in an American Jobs Center (formerly known as One Stop Centers) at the height of the recent recession. Mary chronicles her experiences as an undercover waitress and adjunct professor in her new book, All I Want is A Job: Unemployed Women Navigating the Public Workforce System, released this summer by Stanford University Press.

In the past week Mary has been on the road listening to job seekers and workforce professional’s in the field, and sharing the findings of her book. She spoke to Rutgers University sociology faculty and students; along with jobseekers at the Jersey Shore at a Jobs Help Center at the Middletown Township Public Library. She then headed up the New Jersey Turnpike to the New Jersey Institute of Technology to speak at an UpskillNJ career fair—a program that offers specialized information technology and science training to unemployed professionals and veterans in New Jersey to help them upgrade their skills to compete jobs. And then continued on 95 North to Jobs for the Future to meet with workforce officials, career services professionals, and researchers. Both audiences —job seekers and workforce development professionals—while at different points in their work lives–expressed concern for their futures. As the job market may be improving, there is a general anxiety not only that there are just not enough jobs, but that the jobs that are available do not offer pathways to economic security.

And the worries that workers expressed to Mary at her New Jersey talks this week, are backed up by the data. Although we are officially no longer in a recession, many American workers and their families are struggling to secure employment, and especially jobs that offer opportunities for economic security.  Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times piece paints a stark picture for workers today, who continue to find themselves out of work.There are still almost 3 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, which is the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. This is a number that is three times the pre-recession total. And coupled with long-term unemployment is that the extended benefits have been eliminated — and in some states the length of benefits has been cut even further. And in this economic recovery, men continue to outpace women in job gains—with the unemployment rate falling half as quickly for women as for men.

And as Mary stresses in her book–  our labor market is changing.  In fact, the backstory has been that the employment gains during the recovery have been highest in low-wage occupations. Jobs such as retail sales, food preparation, waiters and waitresses, and personal and home care aides grew 2.7 times as fast as mid-wage and higher-wage occupations. Overall, employment has grown by 8.7 percent in low-wage occupations compared with only 6.6 percent in high-wage occupations, and mid-wage occupations have actually fallen by 7.3 percent. This uneven jobs recovery means that the “good job” deficit is greater than it was during the early 2000s.

Further, the proliferation of low-wage work is compounded by decades of wage stagnation. Over thirty years, the median wage for households has remained nearly the same. Indeed, the past decade actually saw a decrease in the inflation-adjusted average income for households as available wages and compensation for most workers remains far below what would be expected given productivity gains and what families require to keep up with increases in the cost of health care, housing, and education.

So if the jobs that are projected to grow are low quality jobs, there needs to be a concerted effort to improve these jobs. Workforce development policy is certainly an important and critical part of this response, but for it to be an effective policy it cannot exist on its own. For this to occur, there needs to be collaboration between both private sector changes and public sector supports. For example, we need to highlight high-road management practices—practices that engage front-line workers in problem-solving and decision-making and provide them with the training and skills to do this well—to improve the quality of service jobs and the quality of services provided. And workers need benefits and supports as they to move toward economic security. The absence of comprehensive social insurance or governmental protections results in a vastly unequal labor market, in which workers who fill low-wage jobs face many compounding issues. Millions of Americans who work full-time cannot pay their basic living expenses, let alone have enough money to make investments in their future. These harsh realities demonstrate the need for reinforcing and expanding the safety net for working families facing hard times and supporting programs and policies that contribute to moving families to economic security.


WOW's Senior Scholar Mary Gatta speaking to an audience of students and job seekers.  Photo: The Daily Targum, Rutgers University

WOW’s Senior Scholar Mary Gatta speaking to an audience of students and job seekers. Photo: The Daily Targum, Rutgers University



I’m “Not on the Menu”: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

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. In collaboration with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Forward Together, and several other organizations, Wider Opportunities for Women today released the report The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry.  This report dramatically details how sexual harassment is endemic to the restaurant industry.  One of the most powerful 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.

Surveying workers throughout the country, it is staggering to learn that 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.

Why is the tipping structure so important to this? Since restaurant workers living off tips are forced to rely on customers for their income rather than their employer, these workers must often tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers, co-workers, and management. Not surprisingly then, the restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the U.S.  While seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, more than a third of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry. What is even more disturbing is that the high levels of complaints to the EEOC may actually underreport the industry’s rate of sexual harassment. Restaurant  workers reported that sexual  harassment is “kitchen talk,” a “normalized” part of the work environment.  And many restaurant workers are reluctant to publicly acknowledge  their experiences with sexual harassment.  This is the everyday work life for the 11 million restaurant workers in the United States.

Close to 20 years ago, when I conducted my own ethnographic research on restaurant workers, tipped workers earned the same sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour that workers today are paid.  And the restaurant workers I spoke with, almost two decades ago, talked about the ways that sexual harassment and sexual behaviors were institutionalized into the work environment.  So despite the passing of 20 years, some things have just remained the same. Tipped workers continue to remain vulnerable—both in terms of their economic security and the prevalence of sexual harassment–in America’s restaurants.  Isn’t it about time we do something about this?  Not only is it time to raise the minimum wage and eliminate the tipped sub-minimum wage so that workers can earn enough to support themselves and their families, but we need to improve the working conditions for the people who serve our food and mix our drinks.





President’s Budget Proposal Would Eliminate the Only Workforce Program Dedicated to Expanding Women’s Access to High-Wage Jobs

Women are increasingly their families’ primary breadwinners, yet continue to earn less than their male counterparts, are segregated into the lowest wage occupations, and lack the supports necessary to balance work and family obligations. WOW’s research finds that single mothers and their children disproportionately face economic insecurity: 69% of white single mothers, 80% of black single mothers and 85% of Hispanic single mothers lack the incomes needed to afford the cost of basic expenses. In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama stressed how critical women’s economic security is to their families’, communities’, and our nation’s well being. In fact, the president agreed that “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.”

Despite these commitments, the president’s proposed 2015 budget proposes eliminating the ONLY workforce program that is dedicated to providing opportunities for women to prepare for and enter high-wage, nontraditional jobs. Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations, or WANTO, supports community-based organizations that provide training to women in pre-apprenticeship programs and technical assistance to employers and labor unions.

WANTO is critical federal workforce program because it addresses one of the principal sources of women’s economic insecurity: occupational segregation. The majority of US women do not work in jobs where they have an opportunity to get by, let alone get ahead. Today, fifty percent of women are concentrated in just 26 occupational categories, or only five percent of the 504 occupations tracked by Bureau of Labor Statistics, and over two-thirds of women are concentrated in just 51 occupations. Today, as was true 60 years ago, ‘secretary’ ranks as the top occupational category for women. Other leading occupations include cashiers, retail salespersons, home health aides, and jobs in the hospitality sectors, such as waitresses and housekeepers at hotels. Many of these jobs are our economy’s fastest-growing and the lowest-paying. With average wages of between $8 and $12, these jobs do not enable women to afford the basics, let alone care for their families. Men, on the other hand, with similar levels of education are much more likely than women to access training in the trades or STEM fields, which generally offer higher pay and better career prospects.

Gender stereotypes and women’s lack of knowledge and awareness of these jobs and their entry paths are significant obstacles to increasing their representation in these fields. Women may also lack the preparatory skills to be competitive in the selection process, and selection requirements and procedures still have a disparate and unfair impact on women’s acceptance into apprenticeship programs. Still worse, women who overcome these barriers and enter these field often find discriminatory practices ranging from minimal support, inequitable training, hostile work conditions and job opportunities limited by employer hiring bias.  Programs that support women throughout this process, which is the work offered by many of the groups funded by WANTO, can help women succeed in these jobs – a real pathway out of poverty for these women and their families.

Overcoming the historical and cultural obstacles that prevent women from accessing these higher wage nontraditional careers is challenging and requires direct interventions. Targeted, effective workforce programs, such as WANTO, are critical to the success of individuals and communities facing these significant barriers to employment. WANTO provides the needed specialized technical assistance to address these barriers, which other WIA and workforce programs cannot and do not offer.

And despite its modest funding level, WANTO has consistently produced outsized impact. In a recent grant year, trainees enjoyed a job placement rate after their WANTO participation of nearly 90 percent.  An independent study has shown that when programs funded by one of the two federal grant initiatives that supported nontraditional training for women, (the Nontraditional Employment for Women Act and WANTO), was implemented in an area, local women were 25% more likely to hold a nontraditional job, and that even in years after the policy intervention, women were still more likely to hold nontraditional jobs.  For example, in 2006 alone, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) provided 4,525 women with information about high-skill, high-wage nontraditional careers. CWIT’s WANTO-funded programming enabled 66 women to enroll in CWIT’s Technical Opportunities Program and 88 women to enroll in apprenticeship programs. These women earned average wages of $14.28 an hour – more than 25 percent higher than the national median hourly earnings for women that same year.

Addressing the challenges that women face in today’s labor market is a key strategy for restoring security and opportunity to America’s families and workers. WOW strongly encourages President Obama to reconsider his proposed elimination of WANTO. This lone and effective program dedicated to promoting opportunities for women in nontraditional jobs is is a critical strategy for building women’s economic security, promoting diversity in our future workforce and ensuring America’s success.


Chickie’s & Pete’s: What it Teaches Us about the Economic Security of Tipped Workers

Last week the US Department of Labor announced that a popular sports bar—Chickie’s & Pete’s —had agreed to pay $6.8 million in back wages and damages to its tipped restaurant workers.   Among the wage violations cited was that restaurant mangers forced servers to contribute a portion of their tips to an improper “tip pool,” or tip-sharing arrangement, which comprised about 2 to 4 percent of a server’s daily tables.  Restaurant owners then retained about 60 percent of the tip pool in what was referred to as “Pete’s Tax.”  The servers were required to pay “Pete’s Tax”   to the restaurant’s manager in cash at the end of each shift, even if the server received his or her tips through credit cards.

The Labor Department also found that Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant management: did not follow the tip credit regulation to ensure  wages were at the full minimum wage; did not always pay the initial $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wage, and often did not pay time and a half when employees worked more than 40 hours a week. Under federal law, restaurant owners are required to pay a minimum of $2.13 an hour toward a server’s wages as long as customers’ tips lift the waiter’s pay to the $7.25 federal minimum wage. But if the tips are too small to reach the minimum wage, the restaurant is legally required to top off the waiter’s pay as a tip credit.

Chickie’s &Pete’s case was one of the largest ever brought against an employer for violating the law on tipped wages, and highlights the extreme economic insecurity that tipped workers in the US often find themselves.  In fact the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 has not changed in over twenty years, and many workers find themselves in analogous situations to those of the servers and bartenders at Chickie’s & Pete’s. While federal law states that employers must ensure that tips make up the difference between $2.13 and $7.25, survey data gathered by ROC United indicate that employers frequently ignore this requirement.  Nationally, 19% of restaurant workers report earning a wage less than the federal minimum wage.

And in our recent WOW research report of 100 Jersey Shore restaurant workers we found that 82% of tipped workers reported earning a base wage less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The majority of surveyed workers reported earning a base wage of less than $3.50 per hour, and 39% earned exactly the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour.  Even more distressing is that tips often did not make up the economic security gap the workers faced on a daily basis. Even at the height of the busy summer season, over one-third of surveyed tipped workers reported earning weekly tips of $450 or less. Sixty percent of tipped workers reported earning $600 or less.  And similar to Chickie’s & Pete’s workers, seventy percent of our survey respondents reported that they did not receive due overtime pay.

Low minimum wages and wage violations spell economic catastrophe for the thousands of workers throughout the country that serve us our food and drinks.  It is clearly time to raise the tipped minimum wage.  In fact several state lawmakers have amended their state’s minimum wage law to pay a higher tipped minimum wage than the federal $2.13 an hour. And seven states have eliminated the tipped credit completely, requiring that traditionally tipped workers earn the standard hourly minimum wage.

At the federal level, Sen. Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Miller (D-CA) have introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act which would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10, gradually increase the tipped minimum wage to equal 70% of the federal minimum wage, and peg future increases to inflation. This is an important step in the right direction in order to ensure economic security for restaurant workers.

Chickie's & Pete's Source:

Chickie’s & Pete’s Source:



Must Love Animals, But Still Working Toward Equality: The Case of Female Veterinarians

Policies that encourage more equal occupational representation by sex are critical for gender equity in the labor market. If women enter predominantly male occupations and vice versa, over time occupations should become integrated, and occupational sex segregation should decline.  And such policies should have the secondary benefit of enhancing women’s labor market rewards relative to men’s.  Often many point to veterinarians as an example of an occupation where women have made significant inroads in a short period of time.

So what is the history of women in veterinary scienceDr. Elinor McGrath was the first woman veterinarian in the US and began practicing in 1910. A few decades later, in 1936, there were just 30 women veterinarians in the US, and by 1963 that number had grown to 277 women.  In the next two decades, though,  women began to make rapid advances in veterinary science and by 1989, 22 percent of veterinarians and 60 percent of students were women.  This growth was very much correlated with the passage of Title IX, which ended sex discrimination in education and provided access to programs in the sciences to women.  Having a pipeline of female students is significant and necessary factor in increasing the representation of women in any occupation, and veterinarians are no exception.  As women began to complete and graduate veterinary college programs they began to enter the workforce in higher numbers. Today women are 55 percent of the nation’s veterinarians, and that percentage is still growing. By 2030, seven out of 10 veterinarians will be women, according to a recent projection by The Center for Health Workforce Studies. So women have clearly made progress into veterinary educational programs and practices.

If only our story could end there.  It is true veterinarians represent a sex-integrated occupation.  But does that mean that women veterinarians have achieved equality in the occupation? Unfortunately the answer is NO.  Instead a recent American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) report on finds female veterinarians continue to significantly earn less than male veterinarians, despite the fact that they have increased their representation in the occupation to slightly over 50 percent. The report found that female veterinarians in private practice had median incomes of $88,000 in 2011, while male veterinarians had median incomes of $112,000.  So female veterinarians are earning about 78 percent of what their male counterparts are earning. For those in public and corporate practice, female veterinarians had a median income of $112,000 in 2011, while male veterinarians had a median income of $136,000.

And female veterinarians also are not equally represented in leadership positions in the field or higher paying specialties.   According to AAVMC statistics, women made up 78.6 percent of enrolled U.S. veterinary students in 2013. While women accounted for 41 percent of faculty members at these institutions, slightly more than half of them were nontenure-track, and women held just 0.7 percent of the administrative positions.  And women are only 19 percent of large animal veterinarians, which tend to be a higher paying specialty.  Further gender myths are still prevalent in this specialty and others, such as women are not strong enough to work with large animals or male farmer would not be comfortable working with women in this job.

So—yes women have made inroads into veterinary science and have achieved numerical equity, but are far from equality— as they face job segregation, gender based pay gap and lack of access to leadership positions.  And veterinarians are not the only occupation where this is the reality. Rutgers sociologist Patricia Roos and I found that despite the movement of women into predominately male occupations, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts, and are promoted at lower rates.  Women making inroads into sex-atypical occupations are just a piece of the gender segregation puzzle. Policies that help provide access and a pipeline for women in nontraditional occupations are clearly important to reduce gender segregation.  However unless they are coupled with government and workplace policies that ensure equality within the occupation and in regard to labor market rewards, simply have a sex-integrated occupation will not lead to full equality.

Andre (Moul) Ross, the only woman in Cornell's Veterinary Class of 1943 with four of her classmates and an equine patient. Source:

Andre (Moul) Ross, the only woman in Cornell’s Veterinary Class of 1943
with four of her classmates and an equine patient. Source:


Women in Coding…Is There an App for that?

Source- The Guardian

Source- The Guardian

For the past few months we have seen a good deal of attention paid to women in computing and engineering. Last month Elle magazine dedicated an article to the importance of women in computer science and showcased women who were paving the way and heading up internet sites.  New York City’s Girls Who Code was just named by Buzzfeed as “one of the coolest things in Silicon Alley”.   This past holiday season, toys including Goldiblox and Legos Friends, were touted as gifts to give to budding young female engineers and computer scientists.  In fact the New York Times had an article in its Style section helping direct readers to awesome geek gifts for girls.  And women are often found on the user end of social media.  Snapchat CEO, for example, recently told audiences that 70 percent of the photo-sharing app’s users are women.

So are we to a point where we can really say “women have made it in coding”?

Well, Georgia Tech’s Barbara Ericson’s new research certainly gives us reason to pause.   Reviewing data from the College Board her findings raise some alarming concerns for women and minorities in computer science.  Only a small percentage of the high-school students taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam were women.  Black and Latino students made up an even lower percentage of the test-takers.  Specifically, 18 percent of the students who took the exam were women. Eight percent were Hispanic, and four percent were African-American.  In two states— Mississippi or Montana—not one woman took the AP computer science exam.  In seven states no Hispanic students took the exam: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota. And in 10 states–Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Utah– no Black students took the exam

The Atlantic Monthly noted how dramatic these percentages really are when you compare them to the percentages of women and minorities in highs schools.  Latinos make up 22 percent of the school-age population in the US; African-Americans make up 14 percent, and women make up half of the student population.

So while there has been more attention to women in computer science in recent years, we still have a ways to go to ensure that women are in the educational pipeline to be prepared for jobs in computer science.   This requires a concerted and collaborative effort that provides real engagement for young girls in computer science.  Schools, communities and families need to encourage and foster girls’ achievement by exposing them to female role models in STEM and encouraging high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes.  In addition teachers matter here.  AAUW notes the importance of supporting teacher training to include recognition and avoidance of implicit gender bias, awareness of stereotype threat, techniques to improve spatial skills, and ways to promote a growth mindset in students.  And public policy must help to ensure equity in education programs.  Recent WOW research with partner organizations found that women and girls make up fewer than one in four students in science, technology, engineering and math career and technical education (CTE) programs, fewer than one in six students in manufacturing and architecture- and construction-related CTE programs, and fewer than one in ten students in transportation, distribution, and logistics CTE programs. Yet, women and girls comprise more than 80 percent of students at the postsecondary level enrolled in CTE programs in “human services,” which prepare them for lower-paying positions such as child care workers and hairdressers.

Iin order for us to continue to ensure that we have “women who code”, we need to work hard in our schools to ensure access, opportunities and equity for young girls to get excited about coding.


Women and Job Gains: What Exactly Happened Last Month?

Perhaps it was the post-holiday season slump or a weekend news cycle dominated by a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge, but December’s job report was released this past Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics with little fanfare. Yet there are some dramatic numbers captured in the December jobs report that do deserve attention.  According to an Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) analysis of the January employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women gained ALL 74,000 jobs added to nonfarm payrolls in December, while men lost 1,000 jobs.  That is right—ALL the jobs that were gained in December were gained by women.

Throughout the recession, we know  that women lost fewer jobs than men—partly because of the industries in which men and women are located. New York Times blogger Catherine Rampella  published a great figure illustrating this quite significant trend over time, showing sex differences in job gains and losses over time.  As you can see, in the recovery men did outpace women for several months.  And while women have reversed this trend in recent months, this is the first time ALL the jobs were gained by women.



However there is an important qualification to this finding:  The jobs gains were heavily concentrated in retail (38,500 jobs gained by women), and leisure and hospitality (18,000 jobs for women)—industries that are predominately female and that offer jobs opportunities  that are often low quality in terms of wages, benefits, full-time hours, and workplace flexibility. And some of the job gains can be related to seasonal holiday hiring, so these women may now find themselves out of work in the new year. So the job gain for women is not necessary all good news.  In fact, the Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, also released this weekend, highlighted how women are working more but their concentration in low wage jobs is keeping them in poverty. The conclusion seems clear:  while women may be gaining jobs, they are not achieving economic security for themselves and their families.

That is what makes this December jobs report quite interesting. What factors are driving the sex differences in jobs gain? Women are employed more than ever in our labor market despite so many job seekers’ having left the labor market. Is it just a matter of the ubiquitous segregation that dominates our labor market—the growing jobs are in traditional female industries, so it is not surprising that women would be making gains.  Are employers choosing women because they tend to pay them less (as the wage gap is still alive and well), or may be more willing to work part-time, and without being offered benefits such as health insurance? And since low wage jobs continue to see growth in the recovery—regardless of whether women or men fill them—they are not offering economic security. Public policies, such as increased minimum wages, access to paid sick days and family leave, and workplace flexibility, are needed more than ever in order for working families be economically secure. So, the December Jobs report may not be the sleeper it seems to be and some of these findings need to be looked at more carefully.


It’s Not A Happy Hour For Bartenders!

Many of us look forward to the happy hour at our local bar. After a long day in the office a half priced appetizer or $5 glass of wine helps us all unwind.  However, many times it is not a happy hour for the bartenders and restaurant servers who are mixing our drinks and delivering our nachos.  While bar patrons may be able to take advantage of discounted food and drinks, the restaurant workers often see their tips cut down significantly during happy hour.  These workers are tipped based on the food and drink prices, and when those prices are discounted—because of happy hour specials or restaurant coupons— their tip is discounted too.  Restaurant workers often report that in these situations customers tend to order twice as much food and drink, work the bartenders and servers twice as hard, and then tip based on the discounted food.  And since tips are the bulk of bartenders’ and servers’ income, these discounts are impacting their economic security.

Of course there are ways to try to address this issue.  Many people point to better educating customers on “tipping etiquette”—that on discounted meals and drinks once should tip on the pre-discounted prices. Others suggest that restaurants could include automatic gratuity on the customers’ checks that is based on the full check amount.  All good ideas, but these may be much more of a “band aid” solution, instead of a long term strategy to help restaurant workers achieve economic security.   When one is working on tips, a bartender or server is completely dependent on the ebb and flow of customer traffic, along with the customer’s ability and desire to tip for service.  This combination is a recipe not for a tasty margarita but instead for high levels of economic insecurity.

The reality is that American restaurant workers earn a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour, a minimum wage that has not changed for over twenty years.  The wage is so low, that often restaurant workers receive a zeroed out paycheck at the end of the week because once taxes are taken out of the hourly pay, there is nothing left.  So tips are what they are living on to pay their rent, keep their electricity turned on and put gas in their cars.  And while it is customary for customers to tip 15 to 20% of the total bill, there is no way for a worker to enforce this.  So when customers don’t tip, or the restaurant isn’t busy, the restaurant worker is not earning any income.  In fact living on tips is so bad that restaurant workers use food stamps at twice the rate of the US workforce.  The irony here is clear—those that serve us our meals and drinks cannot afford to feed themselves and their families.

Restaurant workers need more stability in their wages.  Raising the tipped minimum wage is a way to help restaurant workers move toward economic security. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Miller (D-CA) earlier this year, includes an increase in the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the federal minimum wage. Further the tipped minimum wage will also automatically increase when the federal minimum wage increases. And the first time, link the minimum wage to inflation and raise it along with increases in the cost of living.

As Figure 1 shows, passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act will enable a single tipped worker to earn $10,000 more per year by raising the tipped wage. And this will help women who are 71% of employees in the service industry, the largest group of tipped workers.

tip table


So while customers may be able to take advantage of discounted drinks and food at happy hour, the bartenders and servers cannot take advantage of discounted rents, health care or grocery bills.  Providing tipped workers with a stable base wage by raising the minimum wage can go a long way in helping protect them from the extreme economic insecurity that results from solely living off tips. And doing so would give us all something to celebrate at happy hour!


It is certainly not a happy hour for bartenders who have been earning the same low base wage of $2.13 an hour for over 20 years.

It is certainly not a happy hour for bartenders who have been earning the same low base wage of $2.13 an hour for over 20 years.