Guess who’s leading on leave? (Hint: Not us)

By Secretary of Labor Tom Perez

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Tom Perez, 26th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor

I spent last week in Melbourne, Australia representing our government at a meeting of Labor Ministers of the world’s 20 major economies.

After sitting down with my G20 counterparts and learning more about their policies relating to work and workplaces, my main takeaway is that the United States is distressingly behind the curve on paid family leave.

It’s incomprehensible to me that we’re the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave law of any kind. How can we say we’re for family values when so many women in the United States have to jeopardize their livelihood to take a few weeks off from work after giving birth? Should a man have to sacrifice his economic security to take care of his sick mother or his wife returning wounded from active duty?

Our global partners have figured this out, building a solid consensus around these issues. They’ve taken partisanship and ideology out of the debate to recognize this for what it is – a 21st century economic imperative. They’ve discovered that paid leave, child care and similar policies increase our human capital by bringing more women into the labor force. They know it’s possible to have a growing economy, thriving businesses and family-friendly workplaces. They’ve realized we have to give people the tools to be productive employees and attentive parents – the two aren’t mutually exclusive, they go hand-in-hand.

Consider these examples:

  • Canada guarantees at least 15 weeks of paid maternity leave, with some employee cost- sharing as part of the national employment insurance system. Parental leave is 37 weeks shared between both parents with similar payments. There is also child care support of $100 per month for children under six.
  • The United Kingdom allows women to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave (including 39 weeks with pay), in addition to a range of options for paternity leave.
  • Australia offers up to 18 weeks of parental leave with financial support, and at 5.8 percent its unemployment rate is lower than ours. The conservative Australian government didn’t embrace this policy grudgingly; they made it a centerpiece of their campaign platform and want to extend it to 26 weeks with more financial support.
  • Brazilian unemployment is comparable to ours, but their women get 120 days of leave at 100 percent pay.
  • Japan offers paid maternity leave at slightly reduced salary and benefits for up to 14 weeks of total leave. Moreover, Prime Minister Abe has made “Womenomics” – increasing GDP by boosting female labor force participation — a cornerstone of his governing agenda.

So, where does that leave us? While the rest of the world leans in, we’re still falling behind.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much appetite in this Congress for forward progress on these issues. But instead of waiting for leadership from Capitol Hill, we’re incentivizing reforms at the state level where so much public policy innovation takes place. Later this week, I’ll announce the winners of $500,000 in total grants for states to explore the feasibility and evaluate the effectiveness of paid leave policies. Currently, CaliforniaRhode Island and New Jersey stand alone as states with paid family and medical leave laws.

Our pressing challenge right now is to ensure shared prosperity, to build an economy that works for everyone. That means investing in the middle class, rewarding hard work and responsibility, ensuring that everyone has a chance to succeed. Paid leave has to be at the center of those efforts.

Via Work in Progress, the Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Labor

[Editor’s note: The Department of Labor grants to expand and implement paid family leave have been announced! Congrats to Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Montana!]

When it comes to the pay gap, women don’t have a choice

download (2)This week the Census Bureau confirmed what many working women already experience: the gender wage gap isn’t closing – it’s stuck. Stagnant. While the gap between men’s and women’s earnings did narrow slightly in 2013, with women earning 78 cents for every dollar compared to 76.5 cents a year earlier, it has remained virtually unchanged since 2007.

Why is it that in an economy where women are more likely to go to college and make up nearly half of the labor force, the gender pay disparity remains persistently high? One common misconception is that women make less because of their job choices, like where to work, how many hours to work, and what level of education to obtain.

Nope. Researchers have estimated that as much as 40 percent of the gender wage gap cannot be explained even when taking into account gendered differences between the occupations, educations, and work histories of men and women.

Besides, many of these “choices” are in fact shaped by  discrimination that is far outside the ability of one job-seeker to control. Gender stereotypes, unreasonable and unpredictable hours in low wage jobs and inadequate government and employer response support for pregnant workers negatively affect women’s ability to succeed in the workplace. Women still bear a greater share of family caregiving responsibilities and make choices because they are disproportionately balancing the needs of work and family.

In other words, this isn’t about *what* woman choose, it’s about *why*. It’s about the ways in which women are systematically disadvantaged, from top female CEOs earning less than their male counterparts, to single mothers being much more likely to live in poverty than single fathers. Many fields are still segregated by sex and women are choosing occupations which penalize them the least for taking time out of work.

So how to fix it? Giving women the chance to have their voices heard in American workplaces is key to their economic security and the economic security of American families. That’s why The Center for American Progress, the President of the National Women’s Law Center, and President Obama have all expressed the need for a national women’s economic agenda that reduces discrimination in, and increase flexibility at, work — so women can “choose” differently.

This is not an easy climb – but fortunately, there are many paths to the top of this particular mountain. For example, in Washington, D.C., Senate Republicans unanimously voted to block the Paycheck Fairness Act which would ban salary secrecy and strengthen equal pay laws for women. But here in Washington State, the Washington Work and Family Coalition isn’t waiting for Congress to act. It’s pushing forward to strengthen women’s economic security through paycheck transparency, paid sick days, and paid family leave.


Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

And it’s a good thing too. The gender pay gap in Washington State is among the worst in the nation and it’s even worse in Seattle, largely due to the fact that its manufacturing and technology sectors, which have recovered quickly from the recession, are both male-dominated and well-paying.

In 2013, women who live in Seattle earned just 78 cents for every dollar earned by men — down from 86 cents in 2012. That 8 cents drop represents the largest 1-year widening of the gender pay gap among major U.S. cities, and puts us tied with Tulsa, Okla., as the fifth-worst in 2013.

That gap doesn’t just represent a paycheck differential. It represents how women are put in situations every day that for a variety of reasons mean they earn less. The only way to close that gap is to change the constraints that women face.

Ensuring that the work women perform is valued fairly, that women are not penalized unfairly for their caregiving responsibilities, and that there is greater transparency in workplace pay practices may not change the broader problem of how we value women in our society. But it will alleviate some of the constraints women face, so they can take control of their economic security and be free to make new – and better – choices for themselves and their families.

By Sarah Van Houten, MPA, Graduate Intern

Join us in strengthening women’s economic security – Bellingham

Bellingham forum flyer

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You are warmly invited to join us in building women’s economic security across Washington state – next stop, Bellingham!

What: Strengthening Women’s Economic Security Forum

When: October 16th, 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: Bellingham YWCA, 1026 N. Forest St.

This event is part of a statewide campaign to strengthen women’s economic security. The previous forums in Seattle, Kirkland, Tacoma,Spokane and Vancouver have all been powerful successes.

We hope to see you there!

Having a child is good for your career – if you’re a man


Photo credit: John-Patrick Thomas

Great news! If you’re a man — especially a highly educated White or Latino man in a professional job — having a baby is great for your earnings. Congrats, dads! We’re happy for you. No, really, we are.

But what about women, you ask? The news ain’t so bright. Staff reporter Claire Cain Miller at The New York Times wanted to find out how parenthood affects earnings for men and women. Her findings are clear:

One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children. Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.

For men, meanwhile, having a child is good for their careers. They are more likely to be hired than childless men, and tend to be paid more after they have children.

These differences persist even after controlling for factors like the hours people work, the types of jobs they choose and the salaries of their spouses. So the disparity is not because mothers actually become less productive employees and fathers work harder when they become parents — but because employers expect them to.

This bias is most extreme for the parents who can least afford it, according to new data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. High-income men get the biggest pay bump for having children, and low-income women pay the biggest price, she said in a paper published this month by Third Way, a research group that aims to advance moderate policy ideas. “Families with lower resources are bearing more of the economic costs of raising kids,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Budig found that on average, men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Her study was based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2006, which tracked people’s labor market activities over time. Childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents, widening the gap.

At the other end of the earnings spectrum, low-income women lost 6 percent in wages per child, two percentage points more than the average. For men, the largest bonuses went to white and Latino men who were highly educated and in professional jobs. The smallest pay bumps went to unmarried African-American men who had less education and had manual labor jobs. “The daddy bonus increases the earnings of men already privileged in the labor market,” Ms. Budig wrote.

The motherhood penalty hurts more than mothers. Women are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American families. When women aren’t fairly compensated for their work, it means they must pick up extra jobs to support their families. Children who grow up in low-income households are less likely to receive adequate healthcare, have enough food to eat and attend college. What’s more, devaluing women’s work, both in status and in pay, sends the message to young girls and women that their work is simply not as important as their male counterparts.

Addressing women’s pay gaps means adopting a package of laws to protect women – policies such as paycheck transparency, paid family leave and paid sick days. Without these, women will continue to be subject to the whims of employers and a politics of greed. It’s time to step towards a brighter future for women. We need it, we deserve it, we demand it.

By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc, Graduate Policy Intern

What a dad wants, what a dad needs… has changed


Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

When my brother was born, my dad took the day off work. He was overjoyed about the birth of his first child and couldn’t wait to spend as much time as he could with him. The next morning though, being the tough working class guy that he was, my dad felt an even stronger weight on his shoulders to provide for his new family, so he pulled on his boots and headed back to work.

As he put it, years later: “We had bills to pay. I had to get back to work. If something went wrong, it was my responsibility to pay for it.” That was in 1968, when paternity leave, paid or not, wasn’t a thought in anyone’s mind. Women were expected to take care of new babies, even if they also had paid work outside the home.

Much to my dad’s disbelief (along with many others of his generation), cultural attitudes around childcare and family roles are changing dramatically. More and more young men today hope for, and maybe even expect, time off to care for their new infants and to be able to stay home with their children when they get sick – without fear of losing their jobs.

In a study recently published by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, over 89% of the 1,000+ fathers surveyed said that paid paternity or parental leave is important to them when they consider a new job. The number was even higher – 93 percent – for men in the millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2002) who, let’s not forget, will replace the Baby Boomer generation in the workforce. The International Labor Organisation has even called this change in priorities for dads and gender norms in families “one of the most significant social developments of the 21st century.”

Advocates for paid family leave are well-versed in the benefits of moms staying home with a newborn – increased breastfeeding for the infant (leading to a stronger immune system as well as increased mental and emotional development), bonding between mother and child, and more recovery time from the challenging and painful act of delivering a baby.

modern dad

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

But what are the benefits of fathers staying home after the birth or adoption of a new baby? Increased gender equity aside, it turns out the news is good for entire families when dads are able to access paid leave. Research has shown that when dads stay home for at least two weeks after the birth of a child, they have more time to bond with their new baby and build confidence in their ability to be a father, moms see improved health and decreased rates of maternal depression, and babies are more likely to receive significant care from dads for years down the line (according to a study published in 2013 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Just like paid maternity leave benefits, paid leave for dads has gained some traction for workers in white-collar positions, with the tech industry leading the way. We’ve heard the stories of companies like Facebook and Instagram providing four months of paid leave to new parents, because they know it makes good financial sense to retain workers rather than having to re-hire and re-train for the same position.

But we all know we can’t rely on wealthy companies to always do what’s best for workers. And what about those of us who will never work at Google? AKA, 99.999999% of America. (Okay, so that is a made-up statistic. But let’s be real here. Most of us will never work at a tech company, even in booming techie cities like Seattle or San Francisco.)

Approximately 70 countries in the world offer paid paternity leave. It comes as no shock to working Americans that the United States currently guarantees neither paid maternity nor paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993 at the federal level only guarantees leave, entirely unpaid, for workers who work for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours with companies who employ a minimum of 50 workers. That’s a lot of stipulations. Insider’s tip: only 12% of workers in the United States currently have access to paid family leave through their employers.

Just like my dad in 1968, many men today are still only able to take a day or two off work (or none at all) when their new child is born – an event that is easily one of the most important in their lives. But a big difference between now and then is that men in the millennial generation aren’t satisfied. Dads today want the option of caring for their newborn and keeping a job. We shouldn’t make them choose. Join EOI as we work in partnership with the Washington Work and Family Coalition to achieve fully funded Family and Medical Leave Insurance in Washington state.

It’s time for paid family leave in Washington state for dads, moms — and of course, for babies!

By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc, Graduate Policy Intern

Via the Economic Opportunity Institute

Join us in strengthening women’s economic security – Vancouver

Vancouver Women's Economic Security Forum1You are warmly invited to join us in building women’s economic security across Washington state – next stop, Vancouver!

What: Strengthening Women’s Economic Security Forum

When: September 10th, 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: Vancouver Community Library (Columbia Room) 901 C St.

This event is part of a statewide campaign to strengthen women’s economic security. The previous forums in Seattle, Kirkland, Tacoma, and Spokane have all been powerful successes.

Coming soon: Stay tuned for an additional forum in Bellingham this fall. We will see you there!

Join us in strengthening women’s economic security – Spokane

Click to enlarge flyer

You are warmly invited to join us in building women’s economic security across Washington state – next stop, Spokane!

What: Strengthening Women’s Economic Security Forum

When: August 20th, 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: Spokane Falls Community College  (Student Union Building 17-Room 102)

This event is part of a statewide campaign to strengthen women’s economic security. The three previous forums in Seattle, Kirkland, and Tacoma have all been powerful successes.

Coming soon…Stay tuned for two more forums in Bellingham and Vancouver this September. We will see you there!