Family, business, health advocates cheer Department of Labor award to Washington

mom with baby on couchPress release: WASHINGTON | Advocates for paid family and medical leave applauded the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to award $247,000 to Washington state to study the economic impacts of implementing a paid family and medical leave program.

“The Washington Work and Family Coalition is excited by this news and what it could mean for the families of our state,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. “I’ve gotten calls from pregnant women who don’t know how they’ll be able to afford more than a couple weeks off after giving birth, from people struggling to help an aging parent through a health crisis while going to work and tending to their own kids, from small business owners who would love to find a way to provide employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave – but just can’t do it on their own.”

For well over a decade, the Coalition – including a number of women’s, labor, senior, children’s, faith, small business, and health organizations – has advocated for paid family and medical leave.

“From a public health standpoint, the evidence for paid leave is overwhelming,” said Representative June Robinson, sponsor of House Bill 1273 to establish family and medical leave insurance (FMLI). “Babies are healthier for the long term when they are breast fed and their parents can stay home with them for the first several months. Adults are healthier and more productive when they have adequate leave to recover from their own serious health conditions or care for sick family members, without the stress of family financial crisis.”

House Bill 1273 and companion Senate Bill 5459 would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, or for their own serious health condition. Benefits would be provided through a trust fund, financed through payroll premiums of about $65 per year for the state’s typical worker and their employer. In 2007, the Legislature passed a stripped down version of paid family leave that only provided 5 weeks for new parents and did not identify a funding source. Because of the recession, the program was postponed indefinitely rather than being implemented as intended in 2009.

Washington is one of eight states receiving Department of Labor grants.

“I think the research from this grant is just what we need to get family leave ‘unstuck’, and I applaud Governor Inslee’s leadership on this,” said Senator Karen Keiser, current sponsor of SB 5459 and prime sponsor of the 2007 bill. “Showing people just how much the state can save on public assistance, child care subsidies, and home care for seniors, along with how much more effective programs like home visiting can be will help some of legislators on both sides of the aisle understand the full benefits of family and medical leave insurance.“


About the Economic Opportunity Institute:

About the Washington Work and Family Coalition:

Gender Wage Gap For Union Members Is 40 Percent Smaller Than For Non-Union Workers, NWLC Analysis Shows

nwlc logoThe gender wage gap among union members is 40 percent smaller than for non-union workers, according to new analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) of data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Today’s data show that union membership boosts wages for all workers—but especially for women,” said Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security. “The wage gap for women in unions is much smaller than for women who are non-union workers.  But last year the rate of union membership for women was flat.  To promote equal pay for women, it’s time for lawmakers to stop the attacks on unions—and strengthen workers’ rights to organize.”

Gender wage gap for union members is 40 percent smaller than for non-union workers.

  • Among union members, women working full time typically make 89.1 percent of what their male counterparts make weeklya wage gap of 10.9 cents.
  • Among non-union workers, women working full time typically make 81.8 percent of what their male counterparts make weeklya wage gap of 18.2 cents.*

Women’s union wage premium is 1.2 times as large as men’s.

  • Union members typically make more per week than non-union workersbut the bonus is larger for women.
  • Female union members who work full time typically make $904 per week32 percent ($217) more than female non-union workers who typically make $687 per week. In contrast, male union members who work full time typically make $1,015 per week21 percent ($175) more than male non-union workers who typically make $840 per week.
  • Among women, Latina workers experience particularly high financial benefits from union membership. Among full-time workers, Latina union members typically make 46 percent more ($237 per week) than Latina non-union workers. Among African American women working full time, union members typically make 34 percent more than non-union workersa wage premium of $202 per week. For Asian women this figure is 14 percent more ($116 per week) and for white women it is 32 percent more ($225 per week).

The rate of union membership remained flat for women between 2013 and 2014

  • The number of union members increased by 48,000 workers between 2013 and 2014 but the rate of union membershipthe percentage of employees who were members of unionsdeclined 0.2 of a percentage point to 11.1 percent.
  • The percentage of employed women who were union members remained constant between 2013 and 2014 at 10.5 percent, while the rate for men dropped by 0.2 of a percentage point to 11.7 percent.

Read the complete report from the National Women’s Law Center »

Millennial Dads: Trying Hard, Hitting the Fatherhood Glass Ceiling

millenial dads

Original graphic via Jezebel

Other older marrieds sometimes ask me the secret to having a husband who does easily half, arguably more, of the childrearing and cleaning/cooking in our house. The secret is I married someone who is 33 years old. Good news for people like me: Millennial dudes are the most engaged, involved fathers in history. Bad news: Even they are having trouble knocking this equality thing out of the park.

Writing at the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller reports on the bummer reality that millennial fathers are giving it the old college try on the raising the kids and doing the dishes front, but finding themselves screwed when it comes to workplace policies that haven’t kept pace. Miller writes:

“The majority of young men and women say they would ideally like to equally share earning and caregiving with their spouse,” said Sarah Thébaud, a sociologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But it’s pretty clear that we don’t have the kinds of policies and flexible work options that really facilitate egalitarian relationships.”

Work-family policies strongly affected women’s choices, but not men’s. Ms. Thébaud said that occurred because women disproportionately benefit from the policies since they are expected to be caregivers, while men are stigmatized for using them.

The word “benefit” here is dubious. It’s more complicated than this, because when women take advantage of these so-called favorable conditions designed precisely for them, yes, they are, in effect benefiting. But it’s not as if exercising the option doesn’t come with a penalty, it just kicks in before they ever get pregnant—in the form of being regarded as less reliable from the start, and therefore missing leadership roles or promotions due to the expectation they will start a family—and then they’re hit again afterward, when they find it difficult to re-enter the workforce after going part time. Meanwhile, men are viewed as more reliable after a family, not less.

Thébaud’s work comes from a study she co-authored on workplace policies and their effect on millennial relationships, the first such large study of its kind. But Miller cites other research that found the same thing again and again: People increasingly want and expect equal relationships, only to find that the world doesn’t seem to want to yield, in part because the nature of work has become never-ending, with everyone on the digital leash 24/7, and in part because of simply what happens when children come into the picture. One Families and Work Institute study Miller cites found that 35 percent of childlessmillennial men thought men and women should take on traditional roles, i.e., him the breadwinner, her the caregiver, while 53 percent of those with kids thought traditional was the best arrangement.
Here’s Miller:

“They say, ‘I didn’t realize how much of a ding it would be on my career,’” said Laura Sherbin, the center’s director of research. “It’s what women have been saying for years and years.”

The research shows that when something has to give in the work-life juggle, men and women respond differently. Women are more likely to use benefits like paid leave or flexible schedules, and in the absence of those policies, they cut back on work. Men work more.

But again, let’s note that both men and women who want equal partnerships are being penalized in some way or another for having families—women are penalized for being women, i.e., caregivers, while men are being penalized for not acting like men, i.e., breadwinners. Men will at least be rewarded through work after breeding—research shows men on average score a 6% raise per child, whereas a woman’s salary will decrease by 4 percent per child.

Other research Miller details that surveyed unmarried millennials about future work/family balance found that respondents overwhelmingly chose egalitarian arrangements (95 percent of college-educated women vs. 75 percent of college-educated men; 82 percent of women without college vs. 68 percent of men) when work policies supported them. But when they didn’t support them, things looked a little different.

Full story: Jezebel »

The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am

Photo: Maja via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Maja via Flickr Creative Commons

To produce breast milk, mothers melt their own body fat. Are you with me? We literally dissolve parts of ourselves, starting with gluteal-femoral fat, aka our butts, and turn it into liquid to feed our babies.

Before and after giving birth to my daughter 10 months ago, I was inundated with urgent directives from well-meaning, very insistent health practitioners, parenting book authors, mommy bloggers, journalists, and opinionated strangers that “breast is best.” The message was clear: In order to be a good mom, I had to breast-feed.

But breast-feeding is more than being a good mom. And breast milk is much more than food: It’s potent medicine and, simultaneously, a powerful medium of communication between mothers and their babies. It’s astonishing. And it should be—the recipe for mother’s milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years.

Breast-feeding leads to better overall health outcomes for children, which is why the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies be exclusively breast-fed for a minimum of six months.

Those outcomes, though, are relative: A premature infant in the neonatal intensive-care unit or a baby growing up in a rural African village with a high rate of infectious disease and no access to clean water will benefit significantly more from breast milk over artificial milk, called formula, than a healthy, full-term baby born in a modern Seattle hospital.

We’re also told that breast-feeding leads to babies with higher IQs and lower rates of childhood obesity than their formula-fed counterparts. I understand why people find this appealing, but I don’t plan to raise my daughter to understand intelligence in terms of a single test score, or to measure health and beauty by body mass index.

More compelling to me are the straightforward facts about breast milk: It contains all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life (breast-fed babies don’t even need to drink water, milk provides all the necessary hydration), and it has many germ- and disease-fighting substances that help protect a baby from illness. Oh, also: The nutritional and immunological components of breast milk change every day, according to the specific, individual needs of a baby. Yes, that’s right, and I will explain how it works in a minute. Not nearly enough information is provided by doctors, lactation counselors, or the internet about this mind-blowing characteristic of milk.

I made the choice to breast-feed around the same time I was offered a full-time job writing about food. Every morning at 7 a.m., I nurse my daughter. At the office, I pump milk two times a day. When I come home, we nurse, and then at 7 p.m., we nurse before she goes to bed. A few nights a week, I go out to dinner for work.

For six months straight, I woke up every night at 3 a.m. and pumped milk for half an hour in order keep my supply ahead of her demand. (Three a.m. is possibly the darkest, loneliest, and most quiet hour of the night, but I had the reassuring, rhythmic sound of my pale-yellow breast pump to keep me company.) For the last 10 months, there hasn’t been one minute of my life when I wasn’t thinking about, writing about, eating, and/or producing food.

Food points to who we are as animals—human beings with a fundamental need for nourishment, survival—but also to who we are as people: individuals with families, histories, stories, idiosyncrasies. Every day, calories, vitamins, and even clues about the culture I live in flow, drip, leak, and squirt out of my boobs, staining my clothes and making my skin sticky. And every day, I wonder what exactly goes into this miraculous substance.

“People tend to underestimate what milk is,” says Katie Hinde, a biologist and associate professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University. She also runs the very funny, highly informative, and deeply nerdy blog Mammals Suck… Milk!

“That’s in part because you go to the store and there’s an entire aisle dedicated to buying milk that is literally a homogenized, standardized food. It leads us to take mother’s milk for granted.”

But right now, researchers like Hinde—a mix of evolutionary biologists, dairy scientists, microbiologists, anthropologists, and food chemists—are examining milk, and the more closely they look, the more complexities they find.

Full story: The Stranger »

New survey yields insights into Seattle employees’ experiences with sick and safe leave law

Space_Needle_cropped[Cross posted from EOI] To gain additional insight into the extent to which lower wage workers in Seattle are aware of the sick leave law and have access to paid sick leave, the Economic Opportunity Institute conducted a survey in partnership with the YWCA Seattle|King|Snohomish in the spring of 2015.

One standout finding: Life doesn’t happen in averages. Just under half (48%) of all respondents used no sick days in the past year — but among those who did (52%) usage varied from 1 to 6 days. This highlights the need for paid sick/safe leave policies that aren’t based on the notion workers will use some “average” number of days in a year.

Other findings:

  • The majority of respondents said their employer provided paid sick leave: 63% were aware that their employer provided paid sick leave, 20% said their employer did not provide paid sick leave, and others were unsure or did not respond to the question.
  • Women respondents were more likely to use sick leave than men, both for themselves and family care. Whites were more likely than Black, Latino, and Asian respondents to use leave.
  • Workers with higher incomes were far more likely to have access to and have used paid sick days, and much less likely to face retaliation, than the lowest income workers. Women were twice as likely as men to have been punished for calling in sick.

Altogether, 83 people who had worked in Seattle during the preceding year participated. The responses to this survey provide insight into how widely Seattle’s sick leave law is being followed, but are not statistically valid for all Seattle workers.

Read the full issue brief here »

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.


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 -

“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 »