The President’s State of the Union call to “reignite the engine of growth” and create jobs sets the nation on a road toward economic security for all. A growing middle class and growing economy require ensuring equality for women and communities of color. Calls to raise the minimum wage, expand access to early childhood education, and protect critical support programs in upcoming budget fights are the right ways to build and preserve family economic security and fuel economic growth.
Income inequality has become a sad but persistent feature of life in 21st century America. Consider that today’s $7.25 minimum wage would equal $10.56 if the 1968 minimum had kept pace with inflation. The President’s endorsement of $9/hour is a beginning. WOW has reported that raising it to $9.80 over three years, as proposed last summer in the Fair Minimum Wage Act, would move a single worker from 53% to 71% of what is needed to make ends meet according to our Basic Economic Security Tables Index. A single mother with one child in infant care would move from 34% to 46% of economic security using nationwide cost averages.
Raising the minimum wage and indexing it raises the floor for many, if not most, low-wage workers, not just those earning the minimum wage. The Economic Policy Institute has estimated that the pay of 21 million workers will be directly affected in raising the minimum wage to $9 as the president proposed. That is 15 million directly and another 6 million whose wages are slightly above $9. The majority (58%) of jobs added to the economy since the Great Recession are low-wage, according to the National Employment Law Project. And many of these low wage jobs – health care and home care assistants, retail clerks, cashiers and restaurant workers- are filled by women.
As we work to improve the quality of all jobs, it is important that policy makers take steps to ensure equal access by women and people of color to new jobs in high-tech manufacturing, infrastructure and the skilled trades, where they are currently underrepresented. At the end of World War II, women constituted 25% of workers employed in the production of durable goods. Since then, women have not held more than a minute fraction (generally less than 3%) in such higher-paying jobs as electricians, carpenters, operating engineers and HVAC operators. During the recovery, women actually have been losing many of the relatively few positions they held in the manufacturing sector while men have gained them. Research has shown that women have the aptitude for such work and a strong interest when informed of the career and economic potential. WOW’s provision of technical assistance to eight workforce development partnerships in green job training has resulted in a doubling of women’s enrollment, graduation and placement ranging from 28% to 31% per project.
Working families and elders got past the “fiscal cliff” on New Year’s Day with their economic security mostly intact. Emergency unemployment benefits continue for the long-term unemployed. Although the payroll tax holiday was allowed to expire, as expected, the Bush era tax cuts remained in force for all but the wealthiest taxpayers, saving the typical family $2,200 per year. The 2009 expansions of low-income refundable tax credits were continued for workers, families with children and college students for five years. The deal did not require the use of a new inflation measure – the “chained CPI,” – which would have reduced Social Security benefits, and no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid.
In bi-partisan votes in the House and Senate, both chambers agreed to let the Bush tax cuts expire on income over $450,000 for a family and $400,000 for individuals. It is important to note that this is the first time since 1990 that any Republicans have supported any tax increase. Meanwhile, tax rates on income less than those thresholds will remain at the lower levels enacted in 2001 and 2003 as a “temporary” stimulus.
A head of household with taxable income of $35,151 would have seen her tax rate rise from to 28% from 15% if President Obama had not signed the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012” as he did Tuesday night. A single worker with one school age child needs $44,064 to be economically secure and meet all basic expenses, according to WOW’s Basic Economic Security Tables for the U.S. Continue reading →
After Senator Patty Murray’s father died, her family went on food stamps and she relied on Pell grants to attend college. She has not forgotten the significance of these investments.
Murray (D-WA) will become chair of the Senate Budget Committee next year and told advocates in DC today, “We will not tolerate a bad deal that throws the middle class and vulnerable under the bus.”
Murray said that, unless taxes are raised significantly on the wealthy, “It will take decades for programs for the vulnerable and middle class to recover. It will hurt far more than sequestration.” During the 2012 campaign and in deficit reduction talks to date, she said, “Republicans have said the wealthy should not pay a penny more in taxes.”
Sequestration refers to the across-the-board cuts that would reduce every non-defense discretionary program next year by about 8%. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and other Older Americans Act programs, services for domestic violence survivors, job training and education programs have seen billions of dollars of cuts over the past two years and are under ever-shrinking mandatory spending caps for the next ten years as part of the Budget Control Act (BCA). Without higher taxes on those most able to pay, all will be on a consistently downward path for years to come, she said.
In making her commitment to protect the most vulnerable families and individuals, Sen. Murray noted that the BCA’s exemption of such programs as SNAP, WIC, SSI, Medicaid and LIHEAP from sequestration no longer applies. She urged the audience of about 200 advocates to call for continued exemption of these programs in new rounds of deficit reduction this year and next.
Medicare received partial exemption under the Budget Control Act, but a proposal unveiled by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Monday would cut $600 billion from health programs for the poor and elderly. Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that amount far exceeds what could be saved by raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and would require much more draconian reductions in health care benefits for vulnerable seniors.
The ladder in the graphic image that accompanied Stephanie Coontz’ article in the Sunday New York Times reminded me of OSHA testimony I read a few years ago by a woman who recounted that once, as she was climbing up a ladder on a construction site, she felt the ladder come away from the building above her. Thinking she was about to lose her life, she looked up and saw her supervisor, standing at the top shaking the ladder.
I don’t like generalizations, but we’ve got to face the fact that discrimination and stereotyping still exist, to one degree or another, in occupations that are largely dominated by one gender, one race or ethnicity or all of the above. An important point in Coontz’ statistics is that the advance of women’s occupational integration that began in the 1970s took hold in some fields (notably mail carriers, judges, physicians, managers and administrators) but declined after 1980 in other well-paid occupations, especially the skilled trades and computer technology.
In the 1970s, the Departments of Labor and Education began to devote a small amount of resources to programs that introduced girls and young women to the financial and career potential offered by nontraditional jobs. This deliberate outreach to females was accompanied by numerical goals, various forms of support while in training and technical assistance to help employers create non-hostile, safe and welcoming workplaces. More recently, the illusion that women have attained equal opportunity in the job market has led to a withdrawal of support for such programs as the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) and a similar funding gender set-aside under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act block grant to states.
Beyond the value we put on assuring equal treatment under the law, America needs to wake up to the fact that our future depends on utilizing the skills and talents of both women and men in our society.
The Continuing Resolution passed Thursday by the House funds federal programs for the first six months of fiscal 2013 at levels slightly higher than the current year. Great news: An OMB staffer confirmed that the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) program is included in the arrangement.
The president’s budget request last January had zeroed out the program for next year. The budget also reduced funding requested for the Women’s Bureau on the rationale of closing regional offices and shifting savings funds to regional Wage and Hour offices for enforcement activities. That shift could probably still be accomplished administratively.
Since the budget release, WOW has organized meetings for current and past WANTO grantees with Congressional offices and the Department of Labor. Continue reading →