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 »

Lots Of Other Countries Mandate Paid Leave. Why Not The U.S.?

[Original via NPR] If you’ve been paying attention to the political news in the past couple of years, you know that the U.S. stands virtually alone in not mandating paid leave of any type for its workers.

It’s hard to miss; the topic has become a top talking point for Democratic politicians. Hillary Clinton is advocating for stronger paid-leave policies on the campaign trail. In her Monday economic address, Clinton called for paid family leave as a way of helping women stay in the workforce. Sen. Bernie Sanders, her closest rival for the Democratic nomination, has advocated both paid vacation and paid maternity leave on the campaign trail. In addition, some cities and states have started instituting their own sick leave policies.

President Obama likewise brought new attention to paid leave this year as well, when he pointed out in his State of the Union address that the U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn’t mandate paid sick or maternity leave for its workers.

He was right about that — it’s true that most American workers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows workers up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for family members. But that leave is unpaid.

Here, for example, is where the U.S. stands on paid maternity leave in comparison with other countries in the OECD, a group of highly developed economies:

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Graphic: ThinkProgress – click to embiggen

The U.S. is the only one that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. Likewise, the U.S. is one of nine OECD countries that have no leave policies in place for fathers.

It’s not just parental leave, of course — when it comes to vacation, the U.S. is also unique. The chart below shows combined mandatory vacation days and federal holidays in all OECD nations. All of the U.S. days represented below are federal holidays (which are also not guaranteed days off for all workers); the rest of the nations mandate paid vacation days in addition.

It’s a similar story on sick days — among high-income countries, the U.S. alone does not mandate sick leave, according to data compiled by the World Policy Forum.

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Graphic: TheAtlantic.com – click to embiggen.

It’s not at all new to point this out, but data like these pose a tougher question: How did it get this way? Why is the U.S. so different from the rest of the world in not giving workers paid days off?

You could write an entire book about the complicated forces at work here, but a mix of a few big factors has helped set this scene: The aftermath of World War II, business lobbying, a diminished American labor movement, and the American love of individualism and bootstrap-pulling all have combined to help keep the U.S. alone in not giving its workers paid leave.

American Democracy Is Different

One way of thinking about why the U.S. stands alone on paid leave is to zoom way, way out and consider how Americans think about democracy in general — another area where Americans are arguably unique.

Political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset spent much of his career thinking aboutAmerican exceptionalism — trying to understand what exactly makes the U.S. such a strange creature. Our voting rates are low, but our volunteering rates are high, he pointed out. We’re deeply religious. And while some European democracies went in a more socialist direction, the U.S. veered the other way.

For a variety of reasons, Lipset argued, Americans have a different way of thinking about their democracy — the young American democracy was founded with values like individualism and equality of opportunity at its center. And unlike many European democracies, the U.S. has never been a monarchy or a feudal society — that means there’s less awareness of class divisions and less deference to the state in the U.S., Lipset writes. He also proposes a similar explanation for how labor parties and trade unions managed to be stronger in other countries but not in the U.S. — where there’s less class awareness, there’s less likelihood to join unions. (This is just one of many factors he uses to explain U.S. unions’ relative weakness, however.)

It’s easy to see how that might play out in the realm of paid-leave policies. First of all, with less labor power, there’s less support of these sorts of policies. But in addition, when it comes to social class, individualistic, ambitious Americans think of not where they are but where they assume they eventually could be.

“[Lipset’s] argument was that Americans identify with the social class that they aspire to rather than the social class that they were in,” explains Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “So Americans have a lot of sympathy for small business because American people you would have thought were workers historically thought of themselves as potentially being small-business people.”

The result is that Americans tend to have a bit more sympathy for business — after all, when we all own our own shops someday, we won’t want our hands tied by any more regulations than absolutely necessary.

How World War II Explains U.S. Maternity Leave

It’s not just that America’s attitudes differ from the rest of the world’s; the gap in parental leave in particular also has its roots in the aftermath of the world wars.

“The European social democracies that emerged after WWII all wanted paid leave policies (some had them earlier) in part because of their concern about replenishing the population,” Ruth Milkman, a professor of sociology at CUNY, wrote in an email.

Europe suffered both massive casualties and massive damage to its infrastructure, Milkman explains, and it needed to get more people into the workplace. That meant helping women get into work. Meanwhile, when the U.S. troops came home, it meant less of a need for women in the workplace.

“Here in the U.S., while the war was going on, you had women in jobs in factories and in all kinds of jobs the men had held. But women went home” when the soldiers returned from the war, explains Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership on Women and Families. And with all of those women returning to the home, there was less of a reason to create policies that helped them stay in the workplace.

A Loud Business Voice

One other force opposing paid leave is the business community. Trade groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and chambers of commerce at the state and national levels have repeatedly opposed paid-leave policies. In 2007, one U.S. Chamber of Commerce official said his organization would wage “all-out war” against paid-leave laws.

Businesses are not opposed to paid leave itself; 65 percent of U.S. civilian workers have paid sick leave, and 74 percent have paid vacation, according to the Labor Department. (The numbers are, however, slimmer for paid family leave — only 12 percent of private sector workers have access to that.)

But those in the business community say they’re opposed to the government telling businesses how to institute those policies. Paid leave is expensive, they argue, and businesses should all be able to figure it out on their own.

“The challenge with mandates is it is a government one-size-fits-all approach that tries to bring all of these unique workforces and workplaces under this one-size-fits-all approach,” says Lisa Horn, spokeswoman at the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade group for HR workers. “It limits workplace flexibility and company innovation in this area.”

The U.S.’s campaign finance system helps businesses keep these laws off the books, says one expert.

“Money plays a role in politics in many countries, but the extent to which the amount of dollars [is] spent on campaigns in the United States just dwarfs the amount spent in campaigns elsewhere,” says Jody Heymann, dean of the School of Public Health at UCLA. “The ability [to make] very large corporate contributions plays a much more substantial role in our elections than in other countries.”

With paid leave a top issue for the two front-running Democratic presidential candidates, conservative groups that oppose paid-leave laws will certainly find themselves fighting this fight in 2016, just as big-spending liberal groups that support paid-leave laws, like unions, will be pushing the cause of inching the U.S. a little bit closer to its international peers in this area.

High Inequality Results in More US Deaths Than Tobacco, Car Crashes and Guns Combined

A casket at the Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois, 2006. (Wikimedia Commons: Robert Lawton.)

A casket at the Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois, 2006. (Wikimedia Commons: Robert Lawton.)

Studies show roughly half of our health as adults has been programmed in the first thousand days after conception. So societies that privilege those first thousand days are healthier than societies that neglect them. There are only three countries in the world that don’t have a paid maternity leave policy. One of those countries is Papua New Guinea, half of a big island north of Australia. The second country is Liberia, in West Africa. And you can guess the third.

Read more: Moyers & Co.

New Momentum on Paid Leave, in Business and Politics

Oregon this month became the fourth state to pass a bill requiring that companies give workers paid sick days to care for themselves or family members.

Chipotle said this month that it would begin offering hourly workers paid sick days and vacation days, joining McDonald’s, Microsoft and other companies that have recently given paid leave to more workers.
And in a speech meant to preview her presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton put paid leave at the center of her platform. No one, she said, should have “to choose between keeping a paycheck and caring for a new baby or a sick relative.”

Long a pet Democratic cause that seemed hopelessly far-fetched, paid leave suddenly seems less so. With pay for most workers still growing sluggishly — as it has been for most of the last 15 years — political leaders are searching for policies that can lift middle-class living standards. Companies, for their part, are becoming more aggressive in trying to retain workers as the unemployment rate has fallen below 6 percent.

Full Story: The New York Times »

Paid family leave can offer many benefits

Paid family leave affects our country and our businesses and the personal lives of the parents trying to strive without it. The United States is one of only four nations in the world without a federal entitlement to paid leave for families (out of around 200 nations). So it is obvious that the “land of the free,” needs mothers (and sometimes fathers) to be provided with rights to a substantial amount of paid leave following the birth of a child.

In Canada the country provides a year or more of paid leave, with 55 percent of pay replaced. The Swedish program provides 13 months of shared leave, paying the parents 80 percent of their salaries, up to a limit. One of the current three states providing paid leave in the United States, California, allows six weeks of leave with 55 percent of usual pay replaced.

Not only was California the first state to jump on board the paid family leave boat, but their businesses say it has had little to no ill effect. A recent study found that “California companies could save $89 million under a paid leave program due to increased employee retention and decreased turn-over; The State of California could save $25 million annually, due to decreased reliance on assistance programs, including TANF and food stamps.” Many individuals currently turn to these programs when taking unpaid leave because of financial hardship.

So families have a choice. Either undergo huge pay cuts and most likely rely on state and federal assistance programs, or get paid the fair share of money they worked for and were taxed for. Parents staying at home instead of having kids in day care is more than just avoiding additional financial burdens. There is an impact on the children. The Infant Feeding Practices Study examines the changes in breastfeeding practices in California relative to other states before and after the implementation of paid leave. Findings show a 10 percent to 20 percent increase of breastfeeding during several important markers of early infancy. Meaning that the more states with paid leave, the more children will get proper nutrition as an infant, and we all know the benefits of breastfeeding: smarter kids.

Think of our country’s future. Paid family leave can be the difference that our citizens need. In Washington state the Legislature passed a paid family leave law in 2007, originally to take effect in October 2009, but the law was never implemented. Join me in supporting the well-being of our county, businesses and families and petition to reinstate the paid family leave law in Washington state.

Emily Fleshman-Cooper is a resident of Sultan.

Original: Everett Herald »