Category Archives: Jobs

The Fight for LGBTQ Economic Equality

There is a lot to celebrate this LGBT Pride Month. The nation is waiting to hear the Supreme Court’s verdict on whether or not same-sex marriage is protected under the Constitution, which could potentially strike a decisive victory for equal rights and extend marriage equality across the US. Regardless of the outcome, the fight for marriage equality has already achieved significant wins at the state level: 37 states and DC have marriage equality laws, protecting 71% of the population. Considering that no state allowed marriage equality prior to 2004, this rapid progress is a testament to the power of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Marriage can provide significant financial benefits to same-sex couples by giving them access to each other’s social security benefits, health insurance and pensions, and by allowing them to make joint decisions on financial planning and tax preparation.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure equality for LGBTQ individuals in areas such as employment, access to services, and judicial and police protections. Currently, only nineteen states and DC ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment (see map below), housing and public accommodations, with an additional three states banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. This leaves more than half the country without anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. This discrimination can lead to harsh economic realities for LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ individuals are disproportionately likely to live in poverty: single LGBTQ adults with children are three times as likely to be near the poverty line as non-LGBTQ singles with children, while LGBTQ couples with children are twice as likely to be near the poverty line as their non-LGBTQ counterparts.  Around 15% of transgender individuals earn less than $10,000 per year, compared to only 4% of the general population.

Source: Movement Advancement Project

These economic struggles complicate the experience of domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships. If survivors are reliant on an abusive partner for shelter, transportation, food and other needs, it may be extremely challenging for them to leave and start over independently. In 74% of cases, economic insecurity contributes to a survivor staying with an abuser for longer. Studies have found that the rates of domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships are the same or higher than for non-LGBTQ couples. The National Violence Against Women survey found that 21.5% of men and 35.4% of women living with same-sex partners experienced physical domestic violence. This was higher than the rates for cohabitating opposite-sex partners, at 7.1% for men and 20.4% for women. Transgender survivors are almost twice as likely to experience physical violence in an IPV situation as other LGBTQ survivors.

In addition, LGBTQ survivors may face unique barriers towards accessing essential domestic violence services.  LGBTQ individuals may be wary of calling the police due to fear of discrimination or the possibility of dual arrest, in which both parties are arrested instead of a primary aggressor. A 2007 study found that dual arrest occurred in 27% of same-sex DV cases, compared to 0.8% of cases with a male offender and female victim, and 3% of cases with a female offender and male victim. In 2013, 20% of LGBTQ survivors were turned away from domestic violence shelters and 41.7% were denied access to a protection order.  These resources are particularly critical for economically insecure survivors, who may have few other options to protect themselves from abuse.

Clearly, while the LGBTQ community has made great progress, the fight for equality does not end there.  Policies should protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. There also needs to be an attitude shift towards LGBTQ survivors to recognize that they need the same protections from police, the courts and service providers. Wider Opportunities for Women offers more information about the unique relationship between violence and economic security for LGBTQ survivors as well as recommendations for how we can continue to make improvements.

 

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Connecting to a Lifeline: Technology and Survivor Safety

Access to technology like phones and the internet are critical for domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking survivors’ safety. Cell phones allow survivors to call law enforcement or an ambulance to the scene of a crime, which may stop that violent incident and start the path to recovery. They allow survivors to stay in contact with the criminal justice system, whether to cooperate with a prosecution, communicate about upcoming hearings or receive notification about an offender’s release. In addition, phones and the internet are primary methods for survivors to research and contact appropriate services in their community, including health care, child care, shelters, rape crisis hotlines and other survivor services that are specific to their unique needs like languages or disabilities. If survivors still live with an abuser or had to relocate because of violence, this technology may be even more necessary to stay connected to these vital sources of information and economic justice.

Technology is also essential to achieving economic security, which is directly linked to survivor safety and independence. Not only is reliable internet needed for job searching, it is also increasingly necessary to apply for such opportunities. Currently over 80% of job positions with Fortune 500 companies must be applied for online and over 60% of American workers use the internet for their job duties. Information and applications for training and education programs, benefit programs and other financial services are often only accessible online as well. Furthermore, one study estimated that the typical American consumer saves $8,800 a year by accessing bargains and comparison shopping on the internet.

Unfortunately, low-income survivors may not be able to afford this technology. They may have lost their jobs due to an abuser’s interference or they may be facing high health care, housing, childcare or other costs stemming from violence. An abuser may have destroyed previous cell phones or computers as a means of control and intimidation and the cost of replacement can be prohibitive, especially to replace a phone out of contract. Survivors who leave an abusive partner may be struggling to make ends meet on their own while no longer benefiting from the economies of scale that couples experience.

For these reasons, WOW recognizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for taking steps this week to expand their valuable Lifeline program, which is currently helping over 12 million low-income American households pay their landline or cell phone bills. One of the new proposals before the FCC would allow broadband internet to also be subsidized for participants. To qualify, household income must be at or below 135% of the federal poverty line or they must take part in a federal assistance program such as Medicaid, TANF or SNAP. A preliminary vote  is anticipated in mid-June with a final vote possible by the end of the year.

Survivors and service providers may also benefit from programs such as Verizon’s Hopeline, which collects cell phones and accessories and donates them refurbished to domestic violence organizations for survivors. However, although technology may be essential for survivors to access services and achieve independence, it can also be used as a tool by abusers to control, harass and stalk survivors. Advocates and survivors should be aware of resources such as the Stalking Resource Center’s Use of Technology to Stalk website and course and NNEDV’s Technology Safety Plan Guide to help protect survivors against abuser manipulation of these tools. 

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Older Women In the Workforce: Building Pathways to Economic Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Middle-Class Economics: Pathway to Economic Security?

Economic security was a strong and welcome theme in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union (SOTU) address. He started by introducing a newly coined phrase, “middle-class economics,” and then defined it as “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” This economics would provide opportunities to all—including the sometimes forgotten midlife and older workers who need to recalibrate, upgrade or obtain new skills so that they can earn higher wages, help their families make ends meet, and save for retirement down the road.

To accomplish these goals and obtain the appropriate skills, some workers will need to attend college. As the President stated, “Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.”

This is a vision worth pursuing. If implemented, the President’s plan would offer midlife and older workers access to resources that have often been out of reach. It would allow them to 1) attend college; 2) obtain higher-paying jobs; 3) take care of themselves and their families and 4) participate in a retirement savings plan. With respect to retirement, the savings proposals promoted in this year’s SOTU and related materials build on the “myRA” initiative the President introduced in last year’s SOTU address–a simple, easy, low-cost way for workers who do not have access to retirement savings plans through their employer to save for retirement. The myRA plan was quietly launched online by the Department of the Treasury in December 2014, and promises to be of significant benefit to many working families. It deserves broader attention and promotion than it has gotten to date.

Together with myRA, the Administration’s recommendations for access to enhanced education opportunities and a range of retirement savings vehicles could improve economic security for all. Ultimately, they could help prop up what for far too many is a broken “three-legged stool”—Social Security, pensions (which are rapidly vanishing) and savings—supporting a secure retirement. An economically secure worker translates into less pressure on families, on public support programs (pre- and post-retirement) and on federal, state and local budgets. Such an outcome would certainly enable a major part of our workforce to “feel more secure in a world of constant change.”

Please join WOW and the Elder Economic Security Initiative team in its quest to improve economic security for midlife and older workers and seniors. You may visit us at http://www.wowonline.org/elder-economic-security-initiative/.

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Encourage your Senator to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act! In the Meantime, Join a Union.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. Today, the Senate took a significant step towards building on the Fair Pay Act by voting (73-25) to open debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This vital legislation would work to fight pay discrimination and help women collect the pay they’ve earned.

The wage gap impacts women of every race, disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic women who earn 64 and 53 cents for every dollar earned by black men. It impacts women in every occupation, from traditionally female jobs like teachers to those in nontraditional jobs (particularly non-unionized positions). It exists in every state, from Washington, DC where women earn on average 80% of what men make, to Louisiana and Wyoming where women earn just 67 and 64 cents, respectively, for each dollar earned by men in those states. The wage gap impacts women at every level of education and it compounds over women’s lifetimes to produce significant gaps in economic security between men and women in retirement.

According to WOW’s Basic Economic Security Tables, the wage gap leads to 60% of single adult women lacking basic economic security as compared to only 45% of single men. Recent analysis by WOW finds, however, that closing the gender wage gap between a full-time employed woman and man would increase that women’s economic security by 22%. A woman working full time at the current wage gap making median wages will make over $320,000 less over the course of her career. Persistently lower wages throughout a woman’s working years result in a diminished capacity for saving and increased economic insecurity.

Between the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and today’s Senate momentum around the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Administration has also continued helping to prevent wage inequity. President Obama signed Executive Action preventing federal contractors from retaliating against employees for their discussion of wages and pay. The President also signed an Order requiring federal contractors to track and release compensation data, broken out by sex and race.

These actions by the Legislature and the Administration are important steps in the right direction. We urge both branches to continue their push to help women earn the wages they deserve and move women and their families into more economic security.

While these efforts continue, one way to increase women’s economic security and pay equity is to expand high-wage, high-skill jobs to women – following the President’s vision to expand apprenticeship to different locations, sectors, and populations. A recent CEPR report details the ways in which women in Unions in nontraditional fields experience virtually universal pay equity. The report details that women in unions earn higher wages than those not in unions, more than five dollars more an hour on average. This is true particularly for low wage jobs, such as office cleaners – whose wages were 30% higher with union membership. The report explains that being part of a union positively impacts low- and mid-wage earners more than high wage earners. As women are generally concentrated in low wage jobs, this inequality means women’s wages more closely reflect men’s. Next, the report credits the collective bargaining process – with managers making fewer decisions on individual workers’ wage levels and required transparency – with removing the pay secrecy and bias or discrimination that may play into wage levels.

Now it’s time to continue the momentum – keep pressuring your Senator to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, help expand collective bargaining and unionization,  and open paths to high-wage, high-skill occupations for women.

For more information on the gender wage gap and the Paycheck Fairness Act, see WOW’s website.

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Paul Ryan’s Safety Net Plan Creates, Not Combats Poverty

Last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan unveiled his proposal for an anti-poverty plan at the American Enterprise Institute. Shifting federal assistance towards a block grant he calls the “Opportunity Grant,” Ryan proposed to give the states responsibility to decide how they would distribute funding for eleven safety net programs. The Opportunity Grant masquerades as a plan to uplift low-class and working Americans, while ultimately pulling more people down into cyclical poverty. Historically, block grants have been ineffective and poverty is still a painful reality for many working families, which this plan fails to acknowledge. With no resources to even effectively implement such a program, the Opportunity Grant is destined to fail.

The main issue with Ryan’s proposal is the move away from adjustable assistance programs towards lumping assistance programs into state-distributed packages. To start, block grants are not responsive to economic shifts because they are distributed in fixed annual appropriations. Moreover, block grants have been historically problematic, which Ryan conveniently overlooks. When funds are administered at the state level they can easily be relocated to fill other state budgetary holes. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that states have used billions of dollars of welfare block grants on unrelated programs – in 2011 only 29% of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds were being used towards their intended purposes.

Additionally, block grant programs tend to be chipped away at on the federal level by legislators who considered the money to be “flexible” or superfluous. A prime example of this is the Social Services Block Grant, which has lost 77% of its funding since its establishment and would be entirely cut under the Ryan plan. Ironically, this is a program that would be necessary to sustain the kind of case management Ryan wants to create under his plan. Ryan already wants to make significant cuts to programs like SNAP and Medicaid, so formatting the programs into a lump sum package will make these funds even more vulnerable to further cuts and misallocation.

Ryan’s plan is overly focused on getting people into jobs and is not concerned enough with fixing bad jobs that don’t pay well. He also overlooks other assistance that working individuals and families need to get by, like paid sick and paid family leave, both of which are not required by federal labor laws. In 2014, a full-time worker making the $7.25 federal minimum wage earns approximately $15,080 annually, only 71% of the poverty level for a family of three. This translates to approximately 8.9 million Americans working full-time minimum wage jobs who live below the poverty line. It’s clear that jobs are simply not the end-all to climbing out of poverty. In falsely considering poverty as an issue primarily for people who choose not to work, Ryan’s plan falls short of encompassing the full spectrum of poverty.

Ryan’s proposal also includes lowering the income limit for assistance cutoffs, increasing the eligibility gap and accentuating the poverty cycle even more. These eligibility “cliffs” cut people off from food and housing programs before they can afford them on their own, keeping individuals and families in limbo between self-sufficiency and assistance programs. As the name suggests, eligibility cliffs will drop recipients from help before they even get out of poverty instead of gradually reducing benefits. In fact, in some states like Colorado, simply earning one more dollar an hour could make a low-income individual lose SNAP benefits or experience drastic cuts to their childcare subsidies. Smoothing out these cliffs ensures that recipients continue to have some stability while they become more economically independent. 

Finally, a plan like the Opportunity Grant proposal is financially unfeasible because it calls for cutting funding for some programs while not adding funding for new initiatives, like individualized, paid case managers. More paperwork and bureaucracy will be necessary if Ryan is committed to such case management, paradoxically creating here what he vowed his plan would cut elsewhere. Because Ryan does not propose any increases in program funding, paying for case management staff, training and facilities will only siphon already-limited funds from the block grant. Ryan’s “deficit neutral” plan allots no more money to struggling Americans while simultaneously making it more difficult for those Americans to receive assistance at all.

The Ryan plan is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictory proposals and methods that have proven ineffective since the advent of the welfare safety net. Low-income Americans and the unemployed need assistance that will not disappear at arbitrary cutoff points and that will encompass childcare, food assistance, housing and job training. An anti-poverty plan must go further to address the real issues facing Americans today, not only reinforcing the welfare system but also raising the minimum wage, expanding worker’s protections and extending unemployment insurance. Because it overlooks the facts about poverty and what workers need to get out of it, the Opportunity Grant program will revoke assistance to those who need it most and worsen the problem of poverty in the US.

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Pregnant Workers’ Rights on Supreme Court and Congressional Agendas

On July 1st, the Supreme Court agreed to review a case regarding a former UPS employee who claims she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy. The petitioner in the case, Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., alleged that her employer refused to make accommodations for her pregnancy after her doctor told her not to lift packages weighing more than seventy pounds. Instead of accommodating her with lighter work, UPS forced her onto unpaid maternity leave, leaving her without healthcare or an income during her pregnancy. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) bars employment discrimination against pregnant workers, but does not require employers to accommodate their employees’ requests for changes to their work during their pregnancies. As a result, employers can use troublesome loopholes that allow them to discriminate against pregnant employees, such as an unplanned job evaluation after the pregnancy is announced, and may even fire them on the basis of their pregnancy.

Sixty-two percent of pregnant women and new mothers participate in the labor force nationwide. It is essential to the economic security of women and their families that they are accommodated during their pregnancies so that they can continue to work or be supported by paid maternity leave. Discrimination in hiring and in the workplace against pregnant workers still occurs despite protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Many of these actions stem from employers’ own stereotypes about pregnant women or even what is best for a child. For instance, workers who announce their pregnancy early on are sometimes automatically moved to light work or are given fewer responsibilities even if they can still perform their duties with no issues. Pregnant women are sometimes forced onto sick leave or maternity leave, despite a doctor’s note or the employee’s resistance. In addition, maternity and sick leave are generally unpaid and often not covered by employers’ health insurance, leaving pregnant women in strapped financial and healthcare situations during their pregnancies. The work environment itself can be hostile to pregnant workers as well. Many pregnant women report being denied a water break or a stool to rest on occasionally during long shifts.

Respecting pregnant women’s right to work and to be accommodated should be reflected by both the Supreme Court’s decision and forthcoming legislation. Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. arrives on the heels of House and Senate consideration of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which could resolve the issues brought up by the case. PWFA would fill in the loopholes employers have found in the PDA that have allowed them to continue discriminating against pregnant employees. It would also mandate that employers with 15 or more employees accommodate their pregnant employees during shifts, like allowing breaks or water bottles, in addition to affording them job alterations tailored to their pregnancy. This week, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, the first publication on discrimination against pregnant workers since 1983. The Enforcement Guide incorporates Pregnancy Discrimination Act enforcement with practical implementation and employers’ best practices, in addition to addressing how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) might also apply to individuals with pregnancy-related disabilities.

The interests of both employers and their pregnant employees are met by supporting protections and flexibility in the workplace. Giving pregnant workers flexibility in their job is low-cost or free, reduces absenteeism, increases productivity and encourages employee retention. At the recent White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama spoke in support of pregnant workers, arguing that pregnant women should not have to choose between the health of their child and their job, and that employers had a responsibility to accommodate instead of punish them. To this end, he called for the passage of the PWFA in the Senate as a step towards ensuring employment fairness and economic security for all workers. Labor legislation and policies must take a supportive stance towards pregnant workers for the benefit of more inclusive, efficient workplaces and the financial security of their workers.

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On the Hill: WIOA, Appropriations, and UI

Congress returned this week to Washington for its final work period before the August recess. While still deadlocked on resolving differences on major appropriations bills, Congress did act to actually reform and reauthorize the nation’s job training programs.

Following passage last month of the bipartisan Senate version of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, on Wednesday the House passed the compromise bill on a 416-6 vote. It will next head to President Obama, who has expressed his support and is expected to sign it into law. The compromise legislation, crafted by leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, repeals the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and replaces it with new authority that maintains most of WIA’s original programs. The measure authorizes funding through fiscal year 2020 for workforce development systems at the state and local level, and also maintains and modifies Job Corps, national programs, and adult education and literacy initiatives. It repeals 15 separate programs and requires states to submit plans for workforce systems that address all of the core programs under the measure. The language also standardizes performance indicators for all programs, and requires states to develop comprehensive strategies to align workforce activities with labor market demands, business needs and economic development goals. The bill continues the basic structure of state workforce development systems, with state and local boards developing workforce development plans that govern education, job training and other programs through one-stop delivery systems. However, it modifies the roles of the boards and requires that the plans be more comprehensive and tailored to the region’s employment and workforce needs so that the programs can provide training, employment services, adult education and vocational rehabilitation through a coordinated, comprehensive system.

In spite of the its showing strong bipartisan, bicameral support for the job training measure, Congress remains starkly divided on the 12 major spending bills that must be passed to fund major federal programs for fiscal year 2015. While the House continues to pass various spending bills (although its Energy-Water bill drew a veto threat from the Obama administration this week), the appropriations process in the Senate is essentially at a standstill as a result of contentious policy riders being attached to various spending bills. Because of the increasingly slim odds of lawmakers managing to reconcile spending bills passed by each chamber, it appears Congress will need to pass an emergency spending package to cover immediate threats like wildfires and border security.

Given this reality, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has urged that his proposal to extend unemployment insurance benefits be attached to such a measure. Unfortunately, Sen. Reed’s proposed mechanism to pay for the extension is now being considered as a way to ensure continued funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which covers many of the nation’s major infrastructure projects and is expected to run dry this summer. Reed’s proposal to extend jobless aid for five months would cost a little under $10 billion and would be fully offset — a key to Republican support — using a combination of revenue raisers that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions and extending customs user fees through 2024. House leadership has expressed no appetite for taking up the jobless aid renewal without attaching major Republican priorities.  The odds of action on unemployment insurance seem even smaller now that House Ways & Means Chairman David Camp has announced plans to use pension smoothing, which temporarily reduces the amount that companies are required to pay into their pension funds, as a way to continue funding transportation projects for 10 months.

Beyond unemployment insurance benefits, other items on Senate Democrat’s “Fair Shot” economic agenda continue to flounder without bipartisan support in the chamber. Launched with fanfare as a coordinated plan to align senators behind party priorities aimed at addressing inequality in the economy, an agenda that included the minimum wage, pay equity and student loan refinancing has been stalled by shortfalls on votes and procedural impasses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has little time before August recess to bring up any of these or additional priorities for what will likely be a doomed cloture vote on the Senate floor. Unless a clear path to bipartisan support can be forged—something that seems increasingly unlikely given the breakdown in the chambers’ appropriations process—many of these items appear to be on hold for the foreseeable future, or at least until after the August recess.

Both the House and the Senate will be in session next week.

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Reflections on ‘Addressing America’s Poverty Crisis’

In President Bill Clinton’s plenary address at the Hamilton Project’s Addressing America’s Poverty Crisis summit last week, President Clinton noted that intelligence, effort and dreams are evenly distributed across the world, but opportunity, preparation and support are not. Geography is an important consideration in WOW’s Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST), which estimate the income needed for a family to attain economic security and distinguishes between cost of living differences across cities, counties and states.  WOW’s BEST shows that a single mother with an infant in Jacksonville, Florida would need to earn $45,780 a year to maintain economic security, while a single mother with an infant in Scranton, Pennsylvania needs $43,620. However, what does the BEST tell us about the life chances for the infant in Jacksonville and the infant in Scranton? At similar cost of livings, is there a difference in which infant has the best ‘opportunity, preparation and support?’

One year ago, a team of economists from Harvard, UC Berkeley, and the US Treasury Department released a study showing that opportunity is not equally distributed across the United States and where you are born has a huge impact on your social mobility. As it turns out, Scranton is ranked 2nd in the nation’s 100 largest cities for income mobility, while Jacksonville is ranked 90th.  The infant in Jacksonville is less likely to earn above economic security levels as an adult than the infant in Scranton, because, as President Clinton said, they have unequal access to opportunity. Addressing America’s poverty crisis is not only about combating poverty, but restoring equality of opportunity.

The new policy proposals presented at the Hamilton Project’s summit cover four main areas: Promoting Early Childhood Development and Supporting Disadvantaged Youth, which address opportunity and social mobility, and Building Skills and Improving Safety Net and Work Supports, which address economic security. Proposals regarding childhood development included policies that expand high-quality preschool education, focus on parenting interventions and education and prevent unintended pregnancies.  These policies seek to address inequalities of opportunities that impact children at very young ages. For example, children who lack preschool education are more likely to read behind grade-level at third grade, drop-out of high school, and be in poverty as adults. Low-income youth lack educational and occupational opportunities due to lack of mentors, lack of summer employment or enrichment options, and poor K-12 education which fails to prepare students for college. Policies presented at the summit seek to remedy these problems by utilizing community-based, nonprofit and government programs.

Policies aimed at promoting economic security included expanding apprenticeship programs and vocational training and incentivizing colleges to teach students employable skills. Lastly, creating refundable childcare credits, introducing work sharing, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, reforming the minimum wage, and using data to better target social services were all introduced as ways to improve the safety net and work support in America. As poverty rates rise, policies that fail to address the generational cycle of poverty and the lack of equal opportunity in this country will prevent more and more people from attaining economic security. It is time for policymakers to enact drastic change in how we view social mobility and how we address poverty.

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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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