Category Archives: Workplaces

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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Part of the Solution to End the Wage Gap: Eliminate Occupational Segregation by Gender

I’ll be joining with my colleagues and tradeswomen friends at Chicago Women in Trades later today to meet with the Deputy Secretary of Labor to discuss Equal Pay Day. But please don’t wish me Happy Equal Pay Day! There is nothing to celebrate about the gender wage gap—it continues to be an unfortunate reality of our labor market. Nonetheless, I am grateful for a day that calls awareness to this unconscionable inequity. Moreover, I’m appreciative for the opportunity to urge the Department of Labor to pay more attention and commit resources to one significant way to eliminate the wage gap – by ending occupational segregation by gender. It is a solution/strategy embodied in the stories of the tradeswomen he’ll meet and it’s my own story too – and why it has been my passion and career for over thirty years.
When I made my first steps into the labor market thirty five years ago as an official college dropout, I didn’t have any specific data about the wage gap. However, I did know that it wasn’t going to be easy to support myself in either of the two jobs I had ever done- as a waitress or as a temporary census worker for the government. These traditionally female jobs offer low wages and no employment benefits. And I knew that men’s jobs (when I was growing up we knew there were men’s and women’s jobs because up until 1973 that’s how the help wanted ads were segregated), especially those that were union, might offer more promise for economic independence and security. It was in my search for one of those good union jobs, that I heard about the Chicago Urban League’s program to train women and men of color for jobs in the steel mills. I enrolled and one day the trainer invited me to consider applying to be an elevator constructor. This wasn’t just good fortune shining down on me – no, it was the result of a newly awarded federal contract that required the contractor to take affirmative action to truly open jobs for women and men of color – which then meant actually hiring someone – not just demonstrating good faith efforts to hire.
When that door opened to me (well it didn’t really open, I had to do some kicking – but that’s another story), I was immediately on equal footing – at least in terms of wages, with all my male colleagues. I didn’t know then how much that opportunity and choice could mean over the course of a lifetime. The difference between the wages I might have made if I stayed a waitress, versus the wages I earned as an elevator constructor could top one million dollars. And wage equality is only the first rung of the ladder – it doesn’t take into account the free on-the-job training I received, the health insurance benefits and the pension contributions that nearly doubled the total wage. Not to mention that all of that economic advantage set me up to be able to own my own home, live in the neighborhood of my choosing, help support family members, and build equity and assets that contribute to my economic security.
My experience working in the trades fixing, maintaining and building elevators and escalators, which for the most part I loved, eventually led to the work I do now – advocating and organizing so tradeswomen could get equal treatment beyond just the wages on the job and so more women would find the doors to these careers open to them. I never expected to make a career of this – nor did I think we’d still be fighting for wage equality all these years. The older I get the more ridiculous this seems, especially since the tradeswomen’s movement has been making some pretty good recommendations on how to end occupational segregation. So here is what I’ll be suggesting to the Assistant Secretary so we can speed up this process:
Women’s occupational segregation is built on sex stereotypes, lack of outreach and information, limited pre-vocational skill training, disparate impact of selection criteria, sex discrimination in hiring, and the challenge of being a pioneer in a male-dominated environment. These are pervasive and persistent issues, but they are not without solutions – so let’s tackle these head on by:
• Establishing and enforcing gender equity policy and practice in our job training and career and technical education systems,
• Allocating resources for preparing women and girls to be competitive candidates in jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields,
• Improving and enforcing equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policy and goals for federal contractors and for apprenticeship training,
• Offering technical assistance and training to help public institutions and industry partners make culture change to ensure gender equitable, neutral and sensitive training programs and workplaces
• We need public policy that allows all workers to have paid leave time to address family and medical needs
If you are a tradeswomen, ally or advocate, I hope you will join with me in sharing your own story and your ideas for ending occupational segregation by gender and closing the wage gap. I’ll be happy to forward to the Department of Labor and to our industry leaders. And I still hold out hope, that maybe next year I won’t have to write this blog all over again and instead I’ll be able to report on the dynamic changes the Department of Labor is implementing to end occupational segregation. But don’t just stay tuned, stand up, organize and demand women’s wage equality now.

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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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Herstory Matters: Break Down the Firewall for Women in IT

The first time history really made sense to me was in the seventh grade, when I first started learning about the struggle for women’s suffrage. I recognized that the story of the fight for the right to vote, and of the women who were leading it was inextricably linked to my life. We didn’t have a women’s history month then, and I didn’t realize how little of it would be part of my formal education. That’s why I still get excited when March rolls around and we get a whole month focused on women’s history- or as I prefer to call it, herstory.

I especially like International Women’s Day (IWD), because it links women across the world in recognition of the interconnectedness of our struggles across cultures, nations, races, and geography. I love knowing that IWD has its roots in the U.S. women’s trade union movement. March 8th was the date of two worker demonstrations, one of garment workers in 1857, and another fifty-one years later in 1908, of women in the needle trades. In each case women workers marched and picketed for better, safer working conditions and equal rights for women. This herstory is important to me because it serves as a reminder of the power of organizing to create social change. We still have a long way to go towards women’s full equality, especially in the workplace, but much of what these women fought for – an eight-hour day, women’s right to vote, and laws prohibiting child labor – are protections we now take for granted, at least in this country.

WOW’s history also is rooted in working women coming together and organizing for change. As we celebrate WOW’s 50th anniversary we have been digging up some of the stories of our founders that describe WOW’s evolution. It was in the seventies that WOW started to analyze the problems of occupational segregation by gender. This was a direct result of finding that traditional women’s jobs such as clerical and nurses’ aides did not offer wages that would lead women to economic security. It didn’t take long for it to be clear that it was in non-marginal jobs, jobs traditionally held by men, that women could find economic security. In addition to better wages, those jobs offered on the job training and future upward mobility. Not only did women embrace these new opportunities wholeheartedly, it signaled a profound shift for WOW, into the policy arena, where we began to fight to expand and enforce equal employment laws and to ensure that public employment and job training programs treated women equitably.

It wasn’t easy back then; there was resistance from employers, male workers, policymakers. WOW found that even the regulations requiring federal contractors to set goals and timetables for women’s inclusion in male-dominated jobs were often unenforced and public job training programs still segregated women into low-wage sectors. WOW crafted sex equity language for the Department of Labor that recognized that training funds could be used to address the needs of special populations, including women. It was known as the “WOW paragraph.”

Forty years later, WOW is still in the forefront of opening up nontraditional jobs to women and continuing to make herstory. While we can definitely point to progress, it is a bit alarming to look back at our history and realize we are still fighting some of the same battles WOW took on in the seventies and eighties. However, history reminds us of the example of our foremothers who fought for over sixty years for women’s suffrage. Although the change seems long in coming, the every little step and each one of our efforts brings us closer to equality. We are taking one of those steps this week as WOW tackles the low representation of women in IT.

Women were only 8.9 percent of hardware computer programmers and only 19 percent of software computer programmers in 2013. Nevertheless, with some reminders from our herstory we learn that these jobs haven’t always been difficult for women to enter. In fact, last year, WOW’s Matt Unrath posted a blog about the computer programmers history forgot – women. His blog, following an NPR report on the same topic, describes the roles of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Jean Jennings Bartik in the expansion of modern computing. We Facebooked, tweeted, and instagrammed the blog and our intern took a Vine of our CEO trying to send a Snap Chat thanking Matt for his post. And we can thank many of the women you can read about here for starting our culture down the path to that sentence even making sense to anyone!

As we enter the second full week of Women’s History Month, WOW is hosting the New Jersey Forum on Women in Information Technology at Essex County College. We’re bringing together experts in community college instruction, representatives from the workforce development system, members of local government, employers and students to address women’s underrepresentation in the IT sector. We won’t be marching and picketing in the streets like our foremothers, but we will be carrying on the struggle of women for good work and full equality in the workplace through education, coalition building and promoting effective strategies for equitable workforce training. Moreover, we will be encouraged by the knowledge of our herstory, that each of these steps matter!

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America Saves – Or Not

The end of America Saves Week (February 23-28, 2015) should not be an excuse to suspend our efforts to (1) save, (2) spread the word on the importance of saving for retirement and other purposes, and (3) continue working to remove barriers to saving. Low and inadequate retirement savings and/or lack of access to 401(k)s, pensions, and other savings platforms result in increased dependence and pressure on our Social Security system. This is a crucial issue for all Americans, but especially for women. WOW’s research shows that half of all women age 65 and older living independently in the community experience economic insecurity—with much higher percentages for women of color.

There have been efforts on both the national and state levels to address barriers to saving for retirement—with uneven results. For example:

  • In response to data showing that “one third of people (36%) in the U.S. have nothing saved for retirement”, and “14% of people ages 65 and older have no retirement savings”, the US Department of Treasury launched the myRA savings program in December, 2014 –a no fee, no hidden cost account–intended to provide a “simple, safe, and affordable retirement savings option” for working Americans.
  • In February 2015, President Obama announced that he had asked the Department of Labor to modernize its rules under ERISA to ensure that investment advisers do not offer financial advice tainted by  conflict of interest, and that they put  hardworking Americans’ interests first. It is estimated that $17 billion is lost each year due to conflicted investment advice.
  • In January 2014, a bill was introduced in West Virginia’s legislature to establish the West Virginia Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts (VERA) Program, which would expand access to retirement plans to all employees and employers who wish to participate. According to H. B. 4375  nearly fifty percent of West Virginia workers have no access to employer-based retirement plans. However, despite vigorous advocacy by West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP) and other groups, opposition led by the insurance industry prevailed and the legislation died.
  • The Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Agenda (WESA), a multi-issue campaign mounted by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium—another WOW partner—and other advocates, resulted in legislation that included creation of a Minnesota Secure Choice Retirement Savings Plan.  In February 2014, HF 2419 and its companion Senate bill, SF 2078, were introduced to establish such a plan; in the end, however, only a study of the issue was commissioned.
  • In January 2015, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill creating the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act. The Act is intended to promote “greater retirement savings for private-sector employees in a convenient, low-cost, and portable manner.”
  • In March 2012, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed a bill into law that provides retirement options for nonprofit organizations. This new law’s effective date was January 1, 2014 and applies to the “not-for-profit employer “who employs “not more than 20 persons…”

Having access to retirement savings plans/programs during one’s working years, and being assured of non-biased investment advice by financial advisors can make a big impact on economic security in retirement.  WOW commends and joins with those at the state and national levels who are working to bring these reforms about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: ROC, 2014

Source: ROC, 2014

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Job Loss Common for Survivors

The Economic Security for Survivors Project team kicked off 2015 with a training and technical assistance meeting in Forsyth, Georgia in partnership with the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski and Robin Thompson met with a group of law enforcement officers and advocates to discuss the economic impact intimate partner and sexual violence has on the ability of survivors to be safe, seek justice and recover. From a lack of adequate financial resources, to job loss, to crushing debt, participants shared examples in which they had seen these many economic barriers complicate a survivor’s ability to move forward.

One particular issue that was continually raised during the meeting was the impact abuse had on the ability of survivors to maintain or seek employment. Advocates and victims alike shared stories about job loss due to an abuser’s tactics and resulting trauma. They expressed frustration at how little recourse there is to address the loss of the very lifeline that could enable survivors to leave an abuse relationship. Georgia, like many states, offers few workplace protections and accommodations for victims of intimate partner violence, sexual assault or stalking. The ability to take time off to deal with abuse or violence without the threat of job loss or employer retaliation, accommodations that allow survivors to be safer at work, and access to Unemployment Insurance when survivors do lose their job are integral to their ability to be economically secure and free of violence.

A study in Maine found that 60% of survivors either quit or lost their jobs as a result of abuse. Reasons for termination included diminish productivity, emotional trauma, the need to seek safety, concerns for children or coworkers, and abuser interference at work. The study included the story of a survivor whose abuser –also a co-worker– broke her bone then went to work early to tell “his side of the story” to the employer before she arrived at work later because she needed medical care. She was fired on the spot. Unfortunately this story is not uncommon and the impact on survivor safety and their ability to achieve independence is devastating. Protections against employer discrimination and workplace policies that guarantee a survivor’s rights to address abuse without repercussions are necessary to make sure that survivors like the woman in Maine and those we encountered in Georgia can stay employed. This will give them a greater chance of having the financial resources and stability to escape and rebuild their lives.

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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

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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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