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.

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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 – 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!

Happy 21st Birthday FMLA!

3808089294_8f01d519e6_oCongress improved working conditions for millions of women and families across the
nation when they passed the landmark Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) twenty-one years ago. However, today millions of workers are still without access to paid leave and many are forced to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick family member or themselves. In order to better meet the needs of today’s workers and businesses, Congress must act to expand FMLA.

By ensuring people would have job-protected leave for medical and care giving purposes, FMLA helped millions of workers meet the dual demands of job and family by caring for a new baby, an ailing family member, or their own health.

But while FMLA was a big step, the legislation still falls short of ensuring all working families have access to family and medical leave. FMLA does not cover companies with fewer than 50 employees – and it only guarantees unpaid leave, which millions of people cannot afford to take. The law does not provide for part-time workers, nor does it cover non-serious or habitual medical illnesses such as the flu. As a result, 40% of the workforce has no access to FMLA, or finds it very difficult to use the benefits provided by the law.

Following the doctor’s orders to stay home when sick shouldn’t mean losing needed family income or risking your job. The FMLA is a major success for working women and their families but more needs to be done to ensure our leave policies address the needs of a modern workforce.

The Washington Work and Family Coalition believes paid leave is a basic workplace right and we’re leading the fight for state-wide legislation to ensure all Washington workers have access to paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance.

It’s time to empower working families across our state to keep themselves and their kids healthy without risking their family economics. Join us at our upcoming Community Forums in Spokane, Vancouver and Bellingham to advance FAMLI (Family and Medical Leave Insurance) legislation and make paid leave a reality for all Washington families!

By Sarah Van Houten, MPAc Graduate Intern

Workers, Business Owners, Electeds Travel to White House Summit on Working Families

Local Leaders in the Fight for Paid Sick Days, Family Leave and Equal Pay Bring Campaign to the other Washington

WhiteHouseSummitWashington workers, business owners and elected leaders will bring experiences from their fight for paid leave and equal pay laws to the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

Washington’s White House Summit delegation includes working families champion Representative Laurie Jinkins, retail worker and Tacoma sick days advocate Amanda DeShazo, restaurant owner Makini Howell and Washington Work and Family Coalition leader Marilyn Watkins.

At the pre-summit forum at Tacoma Community College Wednesday evening, local women shared stories about the challenges facing working women and families. Wendy Banks, a meat cutter at a local grocery store, shared how she had to repeatedly lobby management in order to be trained in the profession traditionally dominated by men. “My dad was a meat cutter. I worked in the meat department for years, but every time I applied for training as a cutter, there was some excuse why I was denied. Then I found out that men without any grocery experience were being hired straight into the role. I filed a grievance, and finally got a shot at the higher paying job.”

Di Inman, co-owner of Positive Approach Dog Training and Daycare, described growing up with a breadwinner mother who could not take a day off when her kids were sick. “We’ve offered paid sick leave and fair wages from the time we bought our business,” said Inman. “Because we prioritize our employees, morale is high and our business has grown. No one has abused our policies. When you treat people wonderfully, they become wonderful people!”

State Representative Tami Green and Senator Jeannie Darneille also shared personal experiences that have convinced them that adopting legislation for paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance is critical for women and families. “Our state’s prosperity depends on women’s economic security and success,” said Green.

Nearly 1 million workers in Washington don’t have access to a single paid sick day, and only 12 percent of the U.S. workforce has access to paid family leave to welcome a new child or care for an ailing parent. Washington women earn just 78 cents on every dollar – amounting to $10 billion in lost annual income due to the pay gap. Policies like paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance and equal pay laws build economic security for working women and families.

“A 21st century workforce needs a 21st century workplace – the White House Summit will bring together local and national leaders ready to make that happen,” stated Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute and leader of the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but our workplaces haven’t caught up with that reality. Paid leave – whether to welcome a new baby or care for a sick child – and equal pay protections are key policy reforms that will help women and families thrive.”

At the Summit, President Obama will join activists, workers, caregivers and other elected officials from the Family Values @ Work network and elsewhere to focus on creating a workplace that works for all. The president has made the women’s economic agenda a critical component of his efforts to rebuild the economy. In his 2014 State of the Union, he called for an end to ‘Mad Men’-era policies, and in a recent appearance in Orlando he urged Congress to bring the United States in line with “every other advanced nation on Earth by offering paid leave to folks who work hard every day.”

President Obama’s leadership reflects growing national momentum and grassroots advocacy for policies that value families. Last year, three cities – New York City, Portland and Jersey City – passed paid sick days laws, joining San Francisco, Seattle, D.C. and the state of Connecticut. So far this year, Newark passed a similar ordinance and New York City expanded its sick leave law. Citywide laws or ballot initiatives are currently under consideration in Chicago, Eugene, Ore , Tacoma, San Diego, Oakland and several places in New Jersey; and statewide initiatives are gaining steam in California, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Also in 2013, Rhode Island joined California and New Jersey in passing paid family leave, with Washington, New York, Colorado and other states considering similar legislation.

“Together, we can make our families healthier and stronger,” stated Rep. Laurie Jinkins who sponsored the statewide paid sick leave bill this year. “At the White House, I’ll be sharing stories from business leaders who tell me that high-road employment practices – like sick leave or fair pay – are common  sense, effective and smart ways to both do right by their employees and ensure their company’s long-term success.”

Choosing between your child and your job

Owen

Melissa Broome, a leader for the Maryland Campaign for Paid Sick Days, writes about her son’s recent surgery and the plight of children whose parents can’t be with them in the hospital. ‪

When my four-year-old son was recently discharged after undergoing facial reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, many friends and family members asked how I was holding up, how I was handling the stress and lack of sleep and all that comes with spending a week in a hospital. Those who have been through the experience know that the last thing you’re thinking about is yourself.

Being at a children’s hospital — especially one as world renowned as Hopkins — was one of the most humbling experiences that I will ever have. We spent our days surrounded by children who had been there for months, who had been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and who aren’t necessarily going to get better. We were awoken at night by the screams of children crying out in pain, while our child, for the most part, slept soundly. We felt guilty admitting that we were heading home when so many seemed to have no end in sight.

Thanks to incredible support from our bosses and an ample supply of paid sick days, my husband and I were able to be there for every minute of Owen’s stay. My only job while I was at Hopkins was to be his mom. Every time he was poked or prodded, I was next to him to hold his hand and whisper in his ear. I like to think that nothing could have pried me away, but I also know that I had the luxury of not having to worry about how my family would make ends meet while we were missing work. This should be the norm, but in our country, where 40 percent of workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day, it’s not.

I was taken aback during our first day in the pediatric ICU to see how many children — and oftentimes babies — were there by themselves in those cold, sterile rooms. When parents started showing up in the evening, it suddenly occurred to me that people who are trying to hold onto their jobs can’t necessarily spend all day, every day next to their child’s hospital bed. We were lucky in that we only had to figure things out for a week. I can’t imagine how parents cope when they have a child facing a long-term illness but no paid family medical leave.

Even Owen picked up on what was happening around us. When we took him for a walk one day, pulling him along in his big red wagon, we passed a room where a young boy was sitting alone inside. Owen immediately looked up at me and said with concern, “Where are that boy’s mommy and daddy? Why is he in there all by himself? He shouldn’t be by himself.”

I spoke to a mom in the family kitchen one evening whose 18-month-old daughter was about to be discharged with a feeding tube that would have stay in for at least two months. Her day care won’t take children with feeding tubes. I was at a loss for words when she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to keep my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Given that I spend my professional life advocating for family friendly workplace policies, I didn’t expect to be so overcome with emotion when I saw how these policies — or lack thereof — play out in a place like a children’s hospital. Before this experience, I certainly thought I believed in the importance of paid sick days and paid family medical leave, but nothing could have prepared me for what it takes to be a hospital parent.

Once you walk through the doors of that children’s ward, it doesn’t matter your background, your income, your education level, etc. We are all just moms and dads who would give anything to be able to take the place of our kids, who are desperate to see them get through whatever battle they’re facing with the least amount of pain possible.

It is well established that children get better faster when their parents are able to care for them. I’m grateful that I was able to be a mom at a time when my son needed me most, but I also know that I’m one of the lucky ones. In a state where over 700,000 workers lack paid sick days, we all need to work harder to convince our elected officials that no parent should have to choose between the pediatric ICU and their job.

Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.

No one should be forced to choose between their job and their family. Help us make sure they don’t have to. In 2015, Washington state lawmakers can pass paid sick days and family leave. Join our work and take action today!

Growing Attention on Paid Leave as a Dimension of Inequality

MomsRising

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.

Via CLASP

“Great” Alternatives to Paid Sick Days

Kids are gross. Inspiring, cuddly, lovable, yes – but also: gross. I had barely heard of things like pink eye, ringworm and foot and mouth disease until I became a mom. My kid even got scarlet fever – Oregon Trail much?

All kids get sick sometime, but nothing makes a 2 am vomit session worse than the additional worry that you’ll lose your job if you can’t go in to work the next day.

Unfortunately, that nightmare is a reality for far too many people in the United States. In fact, today, 40% of all workers and 80% of low-wage workers cannot earn even a single paid sick day to care for themselves or a sick kid. [1,2]

Fortunately, we’ve come up with some GREAT alternatives to paid sick days. Why stay home to care for a sick little one when you can…

1. Take ‘em to Congress or City Hall!

I especially recommend this plan for states like Florida and Pennsylvania where some legislators actually want it to be illegal for cities within the state to pass laws that guarantee sick leave. [3,4]

2. Hide ‘em under your desk!

True story! At MomsRising.org we receive tons of stories from moms and dads across the country who’ve had to take their sick kids to work with them. And since your darling vomiting babe will likely get you sick too, you’ll have an impressive pile of tissues to hide them with! Bonus!

3. Don’t get sick. Ever.

If you do get sick you can break out a haz-mat suit to keep it from your kids. In fact, you should probably wear one all the time.

We all know a supportive partner can make all the difference, but since pretty much no one can afford to have a parent stay home full time, a supportive partner might end up being thrown under the “sick day bus” by having to stay home even when they can’t afford to, which brings us to idea #4….

4. Win the chance to go to work.

If “Rock, Paper, Scissors” won’t fly you can always try shouting “Not it!” or “Nose goes.”

You might even be lucky to have a supportive job that has emergency childcare for sick kids. LOL, just kidding, but I hear Craigslist has great babysitters. If not you can always…

5. Hire a lion to babysit!

*If for some reason none of these horrible ideas appeal to you, there is one more thing you could try…

*If for some reason none of these horrible ideas appeal to you, there is one more thing you could try...

MomsRising is working with folks in cities across the country to organize for paid sick days – and we’re WINNING! Seven cities and one state have earned paid sick days for most workers and dozens of other campaigns are in the works, including a campaign for a national standard! Join us in the fight for paid sick days here! http://action.momsrising.org/sign/HFA_2013/

Sources
1,2. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ebs2.pdf
3. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-06-14/news/os-scott-signs-local-paid-sick-time-ban-20130614_1_florida-chamber-ballot-orange-county
4. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/10/24/2828431/pennsylvania-paid-sick-days-preemption/

Art by David Mansfield at A is for Effort

Via MomsRising, a member of the Washington Work and Family Coalition. Originally posted on Buzzfeed.