How to truly commemorate Women’s Equality Day

Image: London Student Feminists/Wikimedia (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Image: London Student Feminists/Wikimedia (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

We celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26 – the 95th anniversary of women in the U.S. winning the right to vote. It was not an easy victory. It took 72 years, with a multitude of activists using many tactics, from the formal launch of the women’s rights movement at Seneca Falls in 1848 to final passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

To win the vote, women petitioned and marched, made speeches and wrote volumes of reasoned arguments. Suffragettes were thefirst to ever picket the White House. Activists endured heckling and ridicule, attacks by mobs, police beatings, arrests, hunger strikes and forced feeding in prison.

Opponents argued women were physically and intellectually incapable of the reasoned thought required for voting, that allowing them to vote would destroy the family and threaten lucrative businesses – especially related to alcohol, that there were higher priorities demanding the attention of lawmakers.

Winning the right to vote was a landmark achievement, but it was never the only goal of women activists and their male allies. The 1848 Seneca Falls convention – attended by approximately 300 women and men, white and black, many of them active Abolitionists – also demanded  the overthrow of all laws that kept women inferior to men, and “the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions and commerce.” Women fought for equality in marriage, access to birth control, and the right to unionize. Three years after women’s suffrage finally passed, Alice Paul convinced a friend in Congress to introduce the Equal Rights Amendment to achieve these broader goals.

Ninety-five years after winning the vote, the ERA has yet to be ratified. Women turn out in greater numbers than men each election day and earn the majority of college and graduate degrees, but we’re a long way from the full equality our foremothers envisioned. Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women – that’s 23 out of 500.Women hold just 19% of seats in Congress, 24% of state legislative seats nationally (33% in Washington), and 17% of big-city mayor posts.

In virtually every occupation, women make less than men. Pay secrecy policies allow employers to get away with paying different wages for the same work. Men more often get rewarded with the plum assignments and promotions, while strong women are considered “difficult” and sidelined. Mothers and women of colorface especially high wage gaps, with single moms and their children experience shocking rates of poverty and near poverty.

Lack of paid leave is a women’s issue, too. Too many women and men don’t get sick leave to take care of their own health or a sick child or aging parent, and the U.S. remains the only advanced country without paid maternity leave. A recent investigative reportfound that nearly one in four women return to work within two weeks of giving birth despite the devastating impact on their own health and their new babies – because they can’t afford not to.

We aren’t going to get the rest of the way to equality by politely waiting around for a convenient time when it won’t interfere with corporate profits or the priorities of male leaders.

This year, despite three special sessions, Washington’s legislature couldn’t find the time to pass commonsense bills that would move women closer to economic parity – while giving a needed boost to the health and security of families and helping local main street businesses thrive. The 2015 legislature passed fewer bills than anyodd-year legislature going back more than 30 years. The Senatecancelled committee meetings to avoid voting on the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, Sick and Safe Leave, or a $12 minimum wage – which all sailed through the House. The House dropped consideration of Family and Medical Leave Insurance – which would provide paid leave for new parents and workers caring for a seriously ill family member or with their own serious illness or injury – as soon as it passed out of committee and the Senate ignored it completely.

Equal pay, job opportunities, and access to paid leave to care for our children and families’ health should not be partisan issues. We can be grateful to those brave women and men who defied convention and risked bodily harm to win the rights women enjoy today. Will our daughters and granddaughters have any new rights to thank us for – or are we going to pass our problems on to them?

Original: South Seattle Emerald »

The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Leave Now

Investigation reveals the devastating effects of the lack of paid family leave: Data show nearly 1 in 4 employed mothers return to work within two weeks of childbirth.

credit

Leigh Benrahou began laying plans to have a second child almost as soon as she had her first, a daughter named Johara, in 2011. Benrahou, 32, wanted to time the next birth so that when she returned to work, her mother, who works at an elementary school and has summers off, could babysit. Most importantly, Benrahou wanted to spend as much time as she could with her new baby while also keeping her relatively new job as the registrar at a small college.

While her husband, Rachid, 38, earns enough at a carpet cleaning company to cover their mortgage and food, without her paycheck they’d be forced to live close to the bone. And if she quit her job, Benrahou, who has a masters in nonprofit management, would take a big step backward in what she hoped would be a long career in higher education.

So Benrahou, who has wavy dark blond hair, blue eyes and a tendency to smile even through difficult moments, set about what may be the least romantic aspect of family planning in the United States: figuring out how to maximize time with a newborn while staying solvent, employed and, ideally, sane.

Only in America

Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday.

But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave.

Paid parental leave frees mothers and fathers from choosing between their careers and time with their infants. For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children.

Research shows that paid leave can also be a matter of life and death for children. By charting the correlation between death rates and paid leave in 16 European countries, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that a 50-week extension in paid leave was associated with a 20 percent dip in infant deaths. (The biggest drop was in deaths of babies between 1 month and 1 year old, though mortality of children between 1 and 5 years also decreased as paid leave went up.)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member. The highest-paid workers are most likely to have it, according to BLS numbers, with more than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile. Unionized workers are more likely to get benefits than nonunionized workers.

What do the rest of American women do without a law that guarantees this basic support? Some new mothers who don’t get paid leave quit their jobs, which can leave them desperate for income and have serious consequences in terms of work opportunities and lifetime earnings. Others may choose not to have children (though it’s impossible to definitively quantify how the difficulty of integrating work and childbirth factors into those decisions). And some try to stitch together their own paid leaves through accumulated vacation time and personal days, or through independently purchased insurance policies.

Full story: In These Times »

Carly Fiorina Has A Laughable, Dangerous Solution To The Paid Leave Problem

You can’t leave this stuff up to CEOs.

"Carly fiorina speaking" by Michael Vadon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carly_fiorina_speaking.jpg#/media/File:Carly_fiorina_speaking.jpg

“Carly fiorina speaking” by Michael Vadon – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons. (details)

New mothers in the United States are often forced to go back to work just a few weeks after having babies. That happens because our federal government, unlike that of any other country in the developed world, offers no provision for paid maternity leave.

But no worries, everyone! Carly Fiorina has a solution. If the former Hewlett-Packard CEO is elected president, she’ll simply fix our economy, making it “so strong that employers are forced to compete for workers by offering better salaries, better leave policies, more time off, and good benefits,” she wrote on Thursday in a blog post for The Huffington Post.

This is a laughable and dangerous way to think about paid leave. One that’s sure to fail women in the United States, particularly those who aren’t lucky enough to work professional jobs at companies enlightened or profitable or large enough to offer paid maternity leave.

We’ve left paid leave up to businesses for too long, and what have they done? Right now only12 percent of employees at privately owned companies have access to paid leave, according to the Department of Labor.

Allowing this to keep happening would do more harm to the economy than Fiorina seems to understand. And paying for federal mandated leave is far cheaper than she seems to realize — even though her home state of California has been pulling it off for more than a decade.

But paid leave isn’t simply a matter of economics; it’s a public health issue that we all have an interest in.

Full story: Huffington Post »

Let’s Expose the Gender Pay Gap

Image: London Student Feminists/Wikimedia (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Image: London Student Feminists/Wikimedia (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

HOW serious are we, really, about tackling income equality?

The Securities and Exchange Commission took a shot at it last week, approving a rule that would require companies to disclose their C.E.O. pay gap — comparing how much chief executive officers take home compared with ordinary employees.

That’s a fine idea. But here’s a better one: require companies to publish their gender pay gap.

Think about it. Calling out top executives for making too much money will at most embarrass a few suits. But calling out companies for paying women too little will help millions — and perhaps crack one of the most intractable problems of our time.

More than a half-century after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the gap between what men and women earn has defied every effort to close it. And it can’t be explained away as a statistical glitch, a function of women preferring lower-paying industries or choosing to take time off for kids.

Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard, has crunched the numbers and found that the gap persists for identical jobs, even after controlling for hours, education, race and age. Female doctors and surgeons, for example, earn 71 percent of what their male colleagues make, while female financial specialists are paid just 66 percent as much as comparable men. Other researchers have calculated that women one year out of college earn 6.6 percent less than men after controlling for occupation and hours, and that female M.B.A. graduates earn on average $4,600 less than their male classmates for their first jobs.

It’s not that men are intentionally discriminating against women — far from it. I’ve spent the past year interviewing male executives for a book about men and women in the workplace. A vast majority of them are fair-minded guys who want women to succeed. They’re absolutely certain that they don’t have a gender problem themselves; it must be some other guys who do. Yet they’re leaders of companies that pay men more than women for the same jobs.

Women are trying mightily to close that chasm on their own. Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon and co-author of the book “Women Don’t Ask,” has found that one reason for the disparity is that men are four times more likely to ask for a raise than women are, and that when women do ask, we ask for 30 percent less. And so women are told we need to lean in, to demand to be paid what we’re worth. It’s excellent advice — except it isn’t enough.

Read more: New York Times »

Women would be the biggest winners in an expansion of overtime laws

Businessman introducing teenage girl to young professional woman

Raising the cap on workers eligible for overtime would boost single moms, as well as black and latino women.

Overtime can make a big difference for people living paycheck to paycheck. And, according to a new report, a single change to the rules about who’s eligible for overtime pay would expand the number of low-wage workers who qualify for that extra pay by a whopping 5.9 million.

Right now, workers may earn no more than $455 per week (or $23,660 per year) in order to be eligible for overtime. But under the new rule change proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor in July, that threshold would go up to $970 per week or $50,440 per year. According to a newreport by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and MomsRising, the majority of those those newly covered workers would be women.

The report finds that single moms, as well as black and latino women would see the largest benefits—both in terms of the percentage of women gaining OT coverage and the amount that the rule would add to their paychecks.

Read the full story: Fortune »

Student loan debt is creating a systematic gender wealth gap that persists for women’s entire lives

Credit: GotCredit.com/Flickr Creative Commons

Credit: GotCredit.com/Flickr Creative Commons

[Via VICE.com] Law school was supposed to be Erika Stallings’ path to financial stability. The first in her family to attend college, Stallings earned a full ride to the University of North Carolina, and then chose to attend Georgetown Law because the school offered her a partial scholarship. But she graduated with $115,000 in student loans anyway, and today, the $1,000 monthly loan payment eats up a big chunk of her paycheck. So despite her white-collar job and fancy diplomas, she remains in a state of financial precariousness.

“I’m probably as well-off as someone age 30 can be,” Stallings said in an interview. “But even I feel the panic of knowing if I lost my job today, because I’ve been trying to pay off as much debt as possible, I don’t have the Suze Orman emergency fund. If I were unemployed for a while, trying to keep up with these $1,000 a month payments would be terrifying.”

Of course, Stallings situation is not unique. Across the United States, women like Stallings are staring down piles of student debt—bigger piles, in fact, than the ones facing their former male classmates. They’re also making less money with which to pay off that debt. The combination is making women poorer, more dependent, and setting them up for a more tenuous retirement. And it’s creating a systematic gender wealth gap that persists for women’s entire lives.

“I don’t have a familial safety net,” Stallings said. “If I didn’t have this student loan debt, I could start building my own safety net. There would be more money for me to send home. I could switch careers. Last year I had major surgery—adding those bills onto the student loan debt is scary.”

With more women attending college and graduate school than ever before, it naturally follows that more women are also racking up student debt. Women are more likely to take out student loans than men, in an economy where college costs significantly more than it did a generation ago. While it’s a significant feminist achievement that women now account for 57 percent of graduates earning bachelor’s degrees, those women are more likely than their male peers to start their careers in a financial hole: 68 percent of those female graduates are leaving school with some amount of student loan debt, compared to 63 percent of men.

That happens for a few reasons. Women make up 62 percent of students at private and often pricey four-year institutions, where tuition costs are often in five-figure range; there are also a million more women than men in community colleges, which are more affordable, but have high drop-out rates – just one in five first-time full-time community college students graduates in five years, leaving the ones who don’t with limited job prospects and accumulated debt.

Women also make up a larger number of first-generation college students than men, and students who are the first in their family to go to school are more likely to come from low-income families, more likely to take out loans, and more likely to drop out before completing a degree than students who have a parent with a bachelor’s degree. Female college students are also more likely than men to be from poor families, whether they’re first-generation students or not, and that financial disadvantage requires them to borrow more.

Once they graduate—if they graduate—women make less money than men , and so spend a greater proportion of their salaries to pay off their loans. So while their male peers have more money to play with – to put into a 401k, to invest, to save for a home, to put in an emergency fund, to use as a cushion when they take a big career risk – women throw much of their income down a student debt hole that often stretches on for decades.

But while Democratic politicians have called attention to the gender pay gap, and proposed legislation to close it, there has been less of an emphasis on how student loans help turn the pay gap into life-long gender wealth disparities.

A 2013 study by the American Association of University Women found that women who graduated in college in 2008 saw an immediate gap in their earnings compared to their male classmates: One year out of college, women working full-time made just 82 percent of what men who graduated the same year made.

Some of that gap can be accounted for by factors like the number of hours worked, the kinds of occupations women tend to work in, and employment sector. But even when all else is equal, women still make 7 percent less than men one year out of college.

“Because women earn less, paying back their student loans is effectively more difficult for them because a higher proportion of their earnings is devoted to the student loan payment,” said Catherine Hill, AAUW’s vice president of research and one of the study’s authors. “Because of the pay gap, the student debt is taking out a bigger chunk of their smaller paychecks, leaving them with less money to live on.”

There is some degree of “choice” involved in the pay gap – insofar as women funneled into certain careers and men into others is a “choice.” More women major in the humanities than in fields like business, engineering and the sciences, which usually lead to better-paying jobs after graduation. Within employment sectors, men gravitate toward high-paying specialties, while women may focus on areas that are more fulfilling or more flexible, but less remunerative.

But even when researchers account for those factors, women still make less than men when in the first year of their careers, even when doing the exact same jobs—a trend that persists throughout their careers. Gender discrimination, intentional or not, seems to be the only explanation.

Almost no industry is immune. In business and management jobs, women a year out of college make 86 cents to their male peers’ dollar. If they work in sales, it’s 77 cents. Among nurses, a field dominated by women, the handful of men in the industry make much more over the course of their careers—an average of $5,100 every year.

This financial burden can impact every major decision a woman makes for the rest of life—from her career to her marriage to her children to caring for her aging parents to her retirement. Research shows that women who have student loans are less likely to marry—and the more in debt they are, the more their marriage prospects decrease—while the same doesn’t hold true for men. According to the female-focused financial site LearnVest, nearly half of in-debt college graduates delayed buying a home because of their student loans, and nearly a quarter postponed having kids.

“You think about the expense of kids and it’s like, how would I ever take that on and maintain the loan payments? It gives me pause,” Stallings, the first-generation college student, said. She added that while she wants to be able to plan for children, the weight of her debt makes that difficult.

“I have a BRCA II mutation, so one consequence of that is I’m probably going to have my ovaries taken out when I’m 38,” Stallings said. “If I had the money right now I would get my eggs frozen, but trying to find another $15,000 to do that is not easy.”

“Then saving for an emergency fund,” she said, describing her financial priorities. “Then a house or an apartment, not necessarily for myself — I’ve thought of buying my mom property in North Carolina because it’s cheaper, and that would stabilize her financial situation.”

And unlike lots of women, Stallings has a well-paying job that allows her to make her monthly payments in full. For the many women who default or miss payments on their student loans, the hit to their credit scores can compromise their ability to buy a car or a house or even rent an apartment for years to come. For women with car payments or mortgages, piled-on student debt forces some hard choices.

When women spend higher proportions of their income on student debt—and 47 percent spend more than the recommended 8 percent, compared to just 39 percent of men—they’re less able to make the kind of investments that build long-term wealth. There’s less money to put into a 401k, to put toward emergency savings, to buy a home. And after a lifetime of shoveling money toward student loans, and getting paid less than their male counterparts, women entering retirement could be looking at years of financial stability, even poverty.

“I joke all the time that I’ll pay off my house before I pay off my student loans,” Suzanne Meyer, a 43-year-old high school English teacher in North Carolina, told me. “I’m going to be 87 years old in a nursing home and still paying off my student loans. That’s my reality.”

Meyer took out about $30,000 in loans to go to graduate school and get her teaching license. After consolidating, deferring, and missing payments, she now owes nearly $60,000.

“I pay my mortgage first, and we need electricity and food, so the student loans are always last to get paid, and a lot of times that means they don’t get paid at all,” she said. “Which sounds awful, and it’s doing horrible things to my credit, but the reality is they aren’t going to come take my licensure because I didn’t pay my bill.”

The $5,000 she’s hoping to get from the federal loan forgiveness program will make a dent, Meyer said, but not a big enough one. She would like to see the government consider more innovative ways people with student loan debt could repay it—for example, by volunteering or tutoring in a state or federal educational program.

“It’s unrealistic to say I want the whole loan to go away,” Meyer said. “I did borrow the money. But I can give back in other ways that the government needs. It’s a government loan and the government needs certain things – there are programs out there that need assistance and I would be capable of doing that. Let me pay it back in a different way.”

While she’s not making enough money to pay back her own student loans, Meyer has another one looming in the near future.

“I have a kid in high school. I don’t have a college fund for her,” she said. “I’m looking at the other side of student loans now for my child, and that scares me.”

~By Jill Filipovic

Pittsburgh Residents Will Now Be Guaranteed A Paid Day Off When They Get Sick

[Original via ThinkProgress] On Monday, the Pittsburgh city council passed a bill requiring employers to offer workers paid time off for illness or to care for a sick loved one.

The bill passed seven to one after moving quickly through the council. It was introduced on July 6, which meant it got passed in less than a month.

The new law will require businesses with 15 employees or more to give workers at least five paid sick days and three for those with fewer, although unionized construction workers, seasonal employees, independent contractors, and government employees will be exempt. The leave can also be used to care for a spouse, child, parent, domestic partner, grandparent, or sibling. Currently, about 40 percent of the city’s private sector workers, including 77 percent of service workers, don’t have access to paid sick leave.

“In a huge victory for Pittsburgh workers, Pittsburgh city council has now joined Philadelphia in taking action to give an extremely important benefit to workers by passing councilman Corey O’Connor’s paid sick leave bill,” said PA Working Families director Kati Sipp in an emailed statement. “This legislation will give more than 49,000 Pittsburgh workers paid sick leave.”

Pittsburgh is now the second city in Pennsylvania and the 20th city nationwide. Four states have also passed paid sick leave requirements.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

There is still no national requirement that employers offer their workers paid time of for illness, however, leaving about 40 percent of private sector workers without any paid days, including about 70 percent of low-income Americans. All other developed countries, on the other hand, have already passed such laws. President Obama and Democratic lawmakers have pushed to pass a national bill, but it hasn’t moved forward.

Critics argue that it will hurt businesses and jobs to institute paid sick leave requirements, but evidence from places with laws on the books points in the opposite direction. Employers inConnecticut, Jersey City, and Washington, D.C. say it hasn’t be costly or difficult to comply with the requirements, while some have even experienced benefits such as lower turnover and higher productivity. The vast majority of employers now support the laws. Meanwhile, job growth was actually stronger after laws took effect in Connecticut, San Francisco, and Seattle.