Equal Pay for Women Requires Paid Time to Care

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

As we pause to commemorate Equal Pay Day – the day well into the year when the earnings of women working full time catch up with men’s earnings from the previous year – many people are asking why women earn so much less than men. The answer? Because women’s employers pay them so much less – including little or no time to do the caregiving for which women still have primary responsibility. That lack in compensation costs women hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Here’s the rub – in our nation that is supposed to value families and personal responsibility, being a good parent or following doctor’s orders affects your ability to stay employed, to advance, to build assets or even to pay your bills. Lose a job for staying home with a sick child and it may be harder to get the next one. Take a little time to care for your dying father and you may find yourself in bankruptcy court – and that can affect your credit rating and your ability to get hired at the next job. Take a few years to raise young children and your next starting pay – and all the lifetime of raises based on that pay – may take a hit from which you’ll never recover.

Conservatives argue that women would get equal pay with men if they didn’t take breaks. Having a baby may be a joy – but it’s not a break. Studies show that women who experience an interruption in employment do experience a decrease in wages – a reflection of the notion that they’ve taken a “break” and lowered their value by “not working.”

Many new moms who wind up out of a job would be delighted to go back to the one they had — but their employer prevents it. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits firing someone for being pregnant, but it does not require holding their job open until that person heals from childbirth. The Family and Medical Leave Act does include that job protection, but it leaves out 40 percent of the workforce. At the time when they need a steady income the most, too many moms risk losing their jobs when they have a child.

fvaw caregiverNow for the good news: there are tested policy solutions to correct these problems. The drop in income is less likely to happen when women have access to paid family leave. Researchers Houser and Vartanian found evidence that paid family leave boosts the chance that women will return to the workforce and receive pay increases once they do.

An analysis of the impact of California’s paid leave program on leave-taking and post-birth employment found that paid family leave increases a woman’s attachment to the firm that she works in, as well as increasing the number of hours that she works after returning to the job.

In short, common sense policies like a family leave insurance fund not only strengthen families and lower turnover, they would also help lessen the gender wage gap. Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have introduced a federal bill, the FAMILY Act, to create such a fund. And President Obama has included money in the budget for a State Paid Leave Fund, grants to states to help them start similar programs on the state level.

Other public policies would help as well. Guaranteeing that workers can earn paid sick time would help stop income and job loss that impacts women’s earnings. So would proposed credits for caregiving in determining social security income.

These aren’t the only solutions. We need to restore the lost value of the minimum wage (where women are the majority of workers) and remove the barriers from workers choosing to belong to a union. We need parity for part-timers, who are also disproportionately female – no law currently requires that they get the same base rate, even when doing the same job for the same company. And we need an end to salary secrecy, as President Obama is ordering today for federal contractors.

But we’ll never solve the problem of women’s lower – and often really low – pay until we also ensure that women and men have access to affordable time for caregiving.

21 Years after the FMLA, Cities and States Can Lead the Fight for Family Leave

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Today the federal Family and Medical Leave Act turns 21. The law has helped millions of Americans take time off work to nurture their newborn child, care for a critically ill family member, or recover from their own serious health condition.  But America’s families will not regain economic security until all workers have access to paid leave for health and family care. With Congress locked in dysfunctional  bickering, cities and states will have to lead the way – and we in Washington state are proud to be part of that fight.

Women now make up half the workforce. More than two-thirds of Washington state school kids have all their parents in the labor force, and ever growing numbers of workers are providing care for aging family members. But women still earn far from equal pay – even with the same qualifications and in the same jobs as men. Mothers especially experience rampant discrimination. Single mothers and their children are shockingly likely to live in poverty.

The FMLA provides only for unpaid leave. It doesn’t cover workers in smaller companies, those who have changed jobs in the past year or work less than 1,250 hours for the same employer. It also can’t be used for preventive medical care or routine illnesses like the flu or a child’s fever. Without policy standards, 40% of workers don’t get a single paid sick day, and only 12% are provided paid family leave benefits by their employers.

Those statistics mean that working moms like Alma are forced to go to work when their child is sick. Too many woman go back to work a few days following childbirth, like Selena did so she could save her few precious weeks of paid time off for when her premature baby was released from the hospital. And working women like Evelin suffer unnecessary financial and emotional stress because of their parent’s illness.

Washington state is helping lead the movement for change, with policy innovation at the local level. Seattle’s  Paid Sick and Safe Leave Law has been protecting working families like Monica’s, and helping the local economy thrive since September 2012. Now campaigns for sick leave are underway in Tacoma and under consideration in other cities around the state.

In the state legislature, a bill based on the Seattle sick leave policy passed the House just last week with a strong assist from Washington’s Work and Family Coalition. Unfortunately, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which is more likely to pass legislation seeking to overturn city sick days and minimum wage laws.

The Work and Family Coalition has also developed a family and medical leave insurance proposal that would assure all workers have a source of income during those occasions when they must take extended time to care – when a new baby is born, cancer strikes, or a parent becomes seriously ill. We know paid family and medical leave will improve outcomes for young children, seniors, and working families. In the states with insurance programs already in place, parents not only take longer leaves to care for a new child, but new moms are less likely to go on public assistance or food stamps, and are more likely to be employed – and at higher wages – a year following birth.

Paid leave policies may seem like common sense, but winning change won’t be easy. There are powerful lobbying groups representing mega corporations whose owners flourish under the status quo and view any policies to empower working women and the middle class as a threat.

Let’s not wait for another flu epidemic to pass paid sick days. Let’s not allow another whole generation of kids to be born without paid family leave. Our elected representatives in city councils, the state legislature, and Congress need to hear from us loud and often that we expect them to act.

Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman: Invest in Paid Family Leave

Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman Tom Nides Photo via Flickr

A strong voice from Wall Street is weighing in on the importance of paid family leave for parents of newborn children and people caring for seriously ill or elderly relatives. Tom Nides served as Deputy Secretary of State and recently moved to Morgan Stanley. The investment banker supports legislation that would create employee-paycheck deduction pools that would compensate workers during family leaves. Such bills have been introduced in Congress and in Albany, Nides said.

“For New Yorkers, it’s a huge benefit and a huge plus. We gotta move this debate forward. And by the way, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Rhode Island became the third state to offer workers paid family leave, along with New Jersey and California. New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both Democrats, have introduced federal legislation, but so far no Republicans have endorsed it.

Some business groups have said that even though family leave wouldn’t be paid by taxpayers or employers but by paycheck deductions, it should be voluntary, not government-mandated. Nides said it is an idea whose time has come.

“I am totally aware, as a businessperson and as someone who’s been involved in public policy for a long time, that this is difficult for a lot of companies, this is expensive,” Nides said. “But we’ve got to begin having this conversation in the United States.”

Nides said worker productivity will rise and employers will recognize the goodwill that comes out of paying for family leave time off.

“There’s no question that studies have shown that individuals given the opportunity to have a few weeks to take care of a newborn or a sick family member say it’s critically important to the productivity of that individual,” he added.

America lags behind many other developed nations in providing paid family leave.

By Mark Scheerer, Public News Service – NY
Listen to the full interview and news story here.