Growing Attention on Paid Leave as a Dimension of Inequality


Via MomsRising

President Obama, in his most recent State of the Union address,  predicted that fighting inequality would be the “defining project of our generation.” The President’s forecast reflects a growing concern among most Americans about rising economic inequality. Conversations about inequality often focus on the wage gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. However, increasingly, advocates, policymakers, and members of the public have come to recognize that other aspects of compensation, such as paid family and medical leave and earned sick time, are an important part of the equation. The relationships between inequality and these policies, along with others that enable workers to do their jobs and care for their families, are the focus of several new reports.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released, Work-Family Supports for Low-Income Families: Key Research Findings and Policy Trends, which provides an overview of research on the effects of paid family leave, paid sick leave, and workplace flexibility on the well-being of low-income working parents and their families. The paper notes the positive impact such policies have on child development, parents’ financial stability, employers’ productivity, and the public health. Pamela Winston, the author of the report, explains, “[A]ccess [to these policies] is highly skewed by wage levels and other job characteristics in ways that mean the lowest income families tend to have the least access to all types of work-family benefits.” Given the host of benefits associated with access to leave and flexibility, the paper underlines how unequal access further exacerbates existing inequalities.

A recent examination of data from the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) also highlights the ongoing stratification of access to paid sick days. IWPR’s brief shows that fewer than three in ten workers making $19,999 a year or less have access to any paid sick days. In contrast, among those making $65,000 or more annually, eight in ten workers have access to paid sick days. Access to paid sick days also varies by race. Only 47 percent of Latino workers have access to paid sick days, compared with 64 percent of white workers and 62 percent of black workers.

CLASP’s recently published brief, Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality, highlights other ways that lack of earned sick days and paid family and medical leave can entrench inequality, including the potential for job and wage loss among workers who lack protections but must take time away from work to care for themselves or their families. The brief also points to a recent survey showing that nearly half of low-wage workers (those in the lowest 25 percent of the wage scale) lack any form of paid leave: no vacation, no personal days, no sick days, and no family leave.

Media outlets have also been paying attention to this aspect of economic inequality. In a recent New York Times piece, Judith Warner argued that public policies to support working families are an obvious and simple part of the solution to growing inequality. Warner got at the crux of why unequal access to paid leave needs to be addressed as an urgent economic issue: “What this all means is that the people who are already in the most precarious economic circumstances are the most at risk for devastating loss of income – and assets – when they need to care for their children.” This is also true for workers who become ill themselves or need to care for other sick family members, such as parents or siblings.

With Thomas Pikkety’s book on inequality flying off the shelves, it is clear that Americans are eager to find solutions to the many problems that contribute to the current injustices in our economy. Paid leave and other policies to support workers with caregiving responsibilities are a critical but often overlooked part of the solution.


Advocates Back Paid Sick Leave, But Opponents Won’t Cough It Up

Last month, New York City began requiring employers to provide paid sick days, joining the ranks of other cities such as Washington, Seattle and San Francisco. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Last month, New York City began requiring employers to provide paid sick days, joining the ranks of other cities such as Washington, Seattle and San Francisco. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

If you’ve ever seen your waiter sneeze, you may have asked for a different server. If you’ve seen one sneeze repeatedly, you might wonder why he’s still at work, serving tainted food.

See, most restaurant workers don’t get paid when they stay home sick. But, some go to work anyway, when they’ve got the sniffles or worse, because they need the paycheck.

For labor advocates, that’s a problem.

“The fact that we’re forcing people to go to work sick is not something we want to do as a society,” says Maryland state Rep. John Olszewski Jr., a Democrat. “We shouldn’t put people in a situation where they’re forced to make impossible choices between themselves and their work and their families.”

Last month, New York City began requiring employers to provide paid sick days, joining the ranks of other cities such as Washington, Seattle and San Francisco.

But while several cities have been willing to impose such requirements, states have been more reluctant. Olzewski’s bill attracted a majority of his fellow state House members as co-sponsors, but went nowhere this year.

Instead, a number of states — particularly in the South — have passed laws that block local governments from imposing sick day requirements on businesses.

Get the full story from NPR »

The day after Mother’s Day: An overdue economic gift for moms

mom-and-workMost kids today grow up with their mom in the workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, two-thirds of new mothers now return to paid work within a year after giving birth, usually in the first few months.

Back in the 1960s, fewer than one in five new mothers held a paying job. In those days, while the middle class was expanding rapidly, the majority of families had one breadwinner and one fulltime homemaker. Unfortunately, we still organize our economy as if “women’s work” had little economic value and every family had a fulltime caregiver.

Women have gained tremendous new opportunities in the 50 years since Congress banned employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. Jobs and activities once reserved exclusively for men are open. So are educational pathways. Women now make up a majority of college graduates and roughly half the workforce. Instead of earning only 60 cents to a man’s dollar, women working fulltime now earn 77 cents.

But most of that progress was made last century. Since 2000, women’s career and earnings gains have largely stalled.

Men and women still tend to pursue different careers. Here in King County, men hold eight in ten computer and math-related jobs and three-fourths of police and fire department jobs. Women make up two-thirds of health technicians and office administrators and 90% of childcare workers. The typical woman in King County makes $15,000 less each year than the typical man.

Still, up to 40% of the wage gap cannot be explained by differences in jobs, hours worked, education or experience. Too often women get paid less than men in the same job simply because employers can get away with it.

On top of that, the United States, unlike every other advanced economy, leaves working families on their own to cope with care giving. Without uniform standards in place, four in ten workers get no paid sick leave and only half of working women get paid maternity leave – usually cobbled together from saved up sick leave and vacation.

Those with the highest pay are most likely to get paid leave benefits. They are also best able to afford the high cost of quality childcare, which can exceed college tuition – even though childcare teachers earn near-poverty wages.

Because women get paid less and have limited access to paid leave, families suffer bouts of economic insecurity. Staying home with the flu, or caring for a sick child or ailing parent too often means loss of needed income. Women go back to work before they’ve fully recovered from childbirth or established breastfeeding. They accumulate less for retirement and can’t save for their children’s education.

If women received fair pay and had access to paid sick days and to paid family and medical leave, kids would be healthier and better prepared for success in school and life. Fewer seniors would live in poverty. Local businesses would have more customers. Our communities and our democracy would be stronger.

Here’s my Mother’s Day wish list for Washington’s women:

  • Fair pay. Discussing compensation with coworkers should not be a fire-able offense. Employers should have to justify pay differences on some basis other than sex or race.
  • Paid Sick Days. We know that Seattle’s sick leave law has extended paid leave to tens of thousands, while the city’s economy has grown faster than the rest of the state. According to the latest UW study, 70% of Seattle business owners support the law. It’s time to take it statewide.
  • Family and Medical Leave Insurance. Five states already have programs. Women in these states take longer maternity leaves, suffer fewer health complications, are more likely to breastfeed and take their babies to medical checkups. They are less likely to go on public assistance and more likely to be working and earning higher wages a year after giving birth. Let’s pass Washington’s FAMLI Act in 2015.
  • We won’t get these done by Mother’s Day – but if everyone passes this list on to their state legislators and candidates, we can give them to our moms and ourselves for next Valentine’s Day.

Originally published in the South Seattle Emerald.

The Motherhood Penalty

EOI Board Member, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

By Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founder and CEO of  MomsRising, a Washington Work & Family Coalition member

Wonders never cease: I agree with Phyllis Schlafly. Reading the arch-conservative lawyer’s controversial, much discussed April column in the Christian Post made me nearly drop my coffee when this jumped out from the page: “Women with children earn less…”

Finally someone said it.

The elephant in the room—that American moms experience intense wage discrimination—was front and center in Schlafly’s article. (“Elephant” because 81 percent of women in the United States have children by the time they are 44 years old, so this is a problem that affects most of us.)

Never would I have imagined it would be an anti-feminist icon like Schlafly speaking truth to power, any kind of truth, even accidentally, about unequal pay.

Unfortunately and predictably, Schlafly is quick to blame moms for their own wage discrimination, saying their “choices contribute to the pay gap.” Still: At least she admits the pay gap is real. Let’s take a moment to recognize that bit of progress.

Now here’s a stunner: Maternal status, i.e. being a mom, is a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than gender. However, Schlafly’s erroneous claim that the wage discrimination that women—and particularly moms—face is somehow their fault is just plain wrong.

And Schlafly is only one of many recent examples of this blame game. Another is just how widely Claire Shipman and Katty Kay’s April article in The Atlantic, “The Confidence Gap,” has been used—whether Shipman and Kay intended it or not—to argue that women’s lack of confidence is responsible for gender barriers in the workforce. One recent Forbes article put the blame squarely on women’s shoulders for not reaching top management positions, saying, “Women, we aren’t taking action often enough and that’s crucial. We don’t have to be perfect. Men are confident about their ability at 60%.”

This, of course, blames the victim again, but let’s start with the facts that bust these myths: Studies using equal resumes and job experiences found that moms were hired 80 percent less of the time than women without children and were offered starting salaries that were $11,000 lower than those given to non-moms. Dads with equal resumes were offered $6,000 more than non-dads.

Wage differences within the same occupation make up most of the pay gap between men and women, another recent study found. Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard University, calculated that after controlling for age, race, hours and education, women who are doctors and surgeons, for example, earn 71 percent of men’s wages; women who are financial specialists make 66 percent of what male financial specialists earn.

What we’re seeing is flat-out discrimination, not a result of women’s lack of confidence or bad choices—and it’s certainly not a reflection of men being “more motivated by money” than women, as New Hampshire State Rep. Will Infantine (R) said last week in a House speech as he argued against the New Hampshire Paycheck Equality Act.

Wage discrimination is real, and it particularly affects moms and women of color.

More facts: Women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, moms make 73 cents, single moms make about 60 cents and women of color make as low as 54 cents. On average, women working full-time, year-round, earn 77 cents to every dollar that men earn.

Yet Schlafly wrote, in a line that rightfully caused outrage: “The pay gap between men and women is not all bad because it helps to promote and sustain marriages.”


That’s one of the worst excuses for unfair pay yet.

Other ridiculous rationalizations are popping up. Just this month the Republican National Committee (RNC) tried to wave off pay discrimination by saying: “The disparity exists because a female social worker makes less than a male engineer.” This misses the point entirely. A female engineer who is just as qualified as her male counterpart should make the same pay, apples to apples. The RNC was comparing apples to oranges. (Maybe, though, we should take another moment to recognize the bit of progress that the RNC is finally admitting that the wage gap is real.)

Here’s a reality check for all of those making excuses and shifting blame. Women now comprise 50 percent of the labor force for the first time in history and most families now need the wages of moms to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to put a roof over their heads. In a time of growing income inequality, when raising a child from birth to age 18 costs more than $200,000 and when a quarter of young families are living in poverty, it’s absurd to say that the wage gap is helpful in any way, shape or form.

And yes, women do care about money.

But fixing the wage gap is not only about women—raising women’s incomes to parity would also boost our economy and save taxpayer funds by lowering reliance on government programs and by putting money directly into our consumer-fueled economy. This would not be a small boost: The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that U.S. GDP would grow by 3 percent if women were paid as much as men.

What Schlafly and others have been saying might sound outlandish, out-of-touch and possibly even like it’s coming from another planet, the deep undertones of that philosophy still shape our contemporary policies. And if you think it’s horrible, laughable even, to hear an anti-feminist icon make politically incorrect statements like, “The pay gap between men and women is not all bad,” then let me assure you, the horror of living with the ramifications of public policy that cements that philosophy into action is much, much worse.

How much worse? One in five kids in the United States is experiencing food scarcity due to family economic limitations. The wages of moms are important. In fact, most families rely on the wages that moms bring home. And when women don’t make fair wages, our families and our economy suffer.

So while Schlafly’s words may be somewhat entertaining to read from time to time, it’s far from entertaining to live with outdated, out-of-touch policies that don’t even begin to reflect our contemporary workforce—and that are completely out of step with the rest of the world:

  • 177 countries require some form of paid leave for mothers after new babies arrive, but the United States isn’t one of them. Only 12 percent of people in the United States have time off designated as “paid family leave” from their employers—and having a baby is a leading cause of “poverty spells,” when income dips below what’s needed for food and rent.
  • More than 160 countries have a minimum number of earned sick days for all, but again, the U.S. isn’t one of them. In fact, 80 percent of low wage workers in the U.S. don’t get a single paid sick day.
  • Child-care costs more than college in America, yet child-care workers are some of the lowest paid people in the country.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, enacted in 1978, has loopholes so big that employers can deny some pregnant workers’ requests for simple accommodations like a stool that would allow a pregnant cashier to sit instead of stand. In other words, you can still, in 2014, be fired for asking to sit down if you’re pregnant.
  • Our current pay laws don’t let employees talk about how much they make so apples-to-apples comparisons can be made between job categories, leaving the door open for employers to retaliate against workers who discuss salaries with colleagues.

Solutions are possible. Not only can we start to address flat-out wage discrimination by moving forward pay transparency laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act, it also turns out that passing family economic security policies like access to paid family leave, earned sick days and affordable child care help close the wage gaps between moms and women without children, and thus also between women and men, while also boosting the economy. It’s a win-win.

It’s time to banish the echoes of Phyllis Schlafly and her ilk from our public policies. Enshrining retrograde ideas from the 1950s into law, as we have done over the past few decades, damages both our families and our economy.

In 2014, talking real family values means talking change, not making excuses.

Seattle’s paid sick and safe leave ordinance a win for workers and business


Mayor Mike McGinn signing Seattle’s paid sick and safe leave ordinance back in 2011

Anyone who’s spent time in Seattle recently knows from the cranes punctuating the skyline, the new restaurants in every neighborhood, and the traffic jams that business here is booming.

Seattle’s paid sick and safe leave ordinance went into effect in September 2012, guaranteeing most people working in Seattle the right to earn paid leave. The initial evaluation report released by the City this week confirms that since the Paid Sick Days law was implemented, jobs and businesses have grown faster in Seattle than in surrounding cities.

Other big takeaways from the evaluation:

  • The ordinance has succeeded in expanding access to paid sick leave, especially in restaurants where the percentage of companies providing it increased from 14% to 78%.
  • More outreach needs to be done targeting both businesses and workers to assure everyone has access.

A number of small business owners supported Seattle’s paid sick leave ordinance from the beginning. In fact, several helped write the policy. But a vocal group of business lobbyists opposed passage and have grumbled since. Now we know that opponents are a small minority. According to the new study, 70% of Seattle business owners support the law.

A team of University of Washington researchers commissioned by the City used confidential data from the state to compare Seattle’s economy with Bellevue, Everett, and Tacoma. They also conducted two comprehensive surveys of employers, just as the law was implemented and one year later, and in-depth interviews with small samplings of employers and workers.

Overall, 37% of employers reported changing policies in response to the ordinance, including 13% that previously had provided no paid leave, 29% that increased the amount of leave, 25% that expanded eligibility, for example to part-time workers. A third of employers added paid “safe” leave for dealing with issues such as domestic violence or sexual assault.

During the campaign for the ordinance’s passage, grocery workers and nurses were among the strongest advocates. Many of them already had sick leave, but did not receive pay until the third day out. They testified to the difficult choices they faced between staying home with a sick child or for their own illness, and loosing needed family income. The UW study confirms the ordinance has made a difference. A full 17% of employers reported they changed policies to provide first day paid sick leave.

Most of the workers interviewed were enthusiastic about the ordinance – although nearly half were unaware of it before the interview. Those who had gained access to paid sick leave had primarily found out about it from their employers, and described using it for a sick child, their own illness, and for medical treatment following a car accident.

Nine in ten surveyed employers believed the ordinance had no impact on most aspects of their business, including customer service, employee relations, or turnover, and 82% said it had no effect on profitability. Some had initial hassles with implementation, but those largely resolved after the first few months.

The study authors concluded that most employers believed they were complying with the law, but that only 61% appeared to be in full compliance. Smaller companies are mostly meeting the requirements, but many larger employers appeared to be failing to meet some provisions.

This evaluation shows Paid Sick and Safe Leave has been a success, but implementation is clearly still a work in progress. Many workers and their families have benefited. Fears about costs to businesses proved unfounded. But far too many workers and employers remain unaware of their rights and responsibilities.

Perhaps the best way to get the attention of employers that are currently ignoring Seattle’s law is for the state of Washington to step up and pass statewide paid sick and safe leave.

Via the Economic Opportunity Institute

No More Mad Men Pay: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, EOI, MomsRising and YWCA host forum on equal pay


From left to right: Washington State Representative Tana Senn, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Washington State Representative Judy Clibborn

Equal pay for women and fully valuing women’s work   – both in the paid economy and as family caregivers – are critical to rebuilding economic security for working families. That was the clear message from last Thursday’s forum at Kirkland City Hall, cosponsored by Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, Washington’s Work and Family Coalition, Economic Opportunity Institute, MomsRising, and the YWCA of Seattle-King County-Snohomish County.

“Too many women face economic insecurity. That’s why we’re here today,” said Congresswoman DelBene. She challenged Congressional leadership to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act, of which she is an original cosponsor, up for a vote in the House of Representatives. DelBene is also a cosponsor of the Healthy Families Act.

Adriana Hutchings described trying to put herself to college while being paid less than a male colleague in the same job, despite her higher level of experience. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising explained that motherhood is a leading predictor of unequal pay.

Marilyn Watkins of EOI noted that the typical woman in King County earns $15,000 less a year than the typical man. With up to 40% of the wage gap unaccounted for by factors such as job title, qualifications, or hours of work, policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act are important. But to address the other 60% of the wage gap, we will have to do more, including expanding Paid Sick Days laws and moving forward with Family and Medical Leave Insurance. Watkins challenged city and state policymakers to continue Washington’s long history as a leader in women’s equality.

The spirited audience included state Representatives Tana Senn, Judy Clibborn, Cyrus Habib, and Roger Goodman, along with Larry Springer’s legislative aide. All five voted for the Paid Sick and Safe Leave bill that passed in Washington’s House in January, before dying in the state Senate. Habib and Matt Isenhower, also present, are both candidates for the state Senate who could change the balance of power in that chamber in 2015.

Also participating in the forum were three Kirkland City Councilmembers, and community members from AAUW, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP, Kirkland Chamber of Commerce, Teamsters, SEIU, Machinists, Women’s Funding Alliance, and other organizations.

For photos, check out Equal Pay and Working Families album on the Washington Work and Family Coalition’s Facebook page and read live Tweets from the event here.

The Importance of Paid Family and Medical Leave: Shelby’s Story

One woman’s story about losing her wages and nearly losing her home when she had to take a short leave to care for her daughter and her dad.

Shelby Ramirez – a mother of two, caregiver, full-time worker and student in Denver, Colorado – talks about the sacrifices she’s had to make without paid leave.

Like Shelby,paid family leave is not an option for millions of parents. Family and Medical Leave Insurance would change that for everyone. We’re working to make paid family leave a reality for every Washington family in 2015. Join our fight and stay engaged by signing up for email alerts and following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more about Shelby’s story and the national movement to secure paid family leave for all here.