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New IWPR/Rockefeller Survey Reveals Need and Support for Social Security Funding

By Zoe Li

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, recently completed a survey of economic security. Retirement on the Edge: Women, Men, and Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession (download the report and other resources from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security on our website) compiled data from over 2,700 adults to provide a national snapshot of how Americans view retirement and Social Security. The survey, that collected data from over 2,500 respondents in the fall of 2010, revealed that the recent domestic recession has strongly impacted the current financial situations, and prospective financial futures, of many Americans.

In particular, the widespread loss of employment, salaries, and pensions felt across many sectors of the economy has heightened the importance of Social Security to many Americans. In 2010, only 25 percent of women and 35 percent of men not yet retired felt that they were saving enough money for retirement, compared to 34 percent of women and 45 percent of men not yet retired in 2007. This effect is due in no small part to financial losses during the recession: nearly 50 percent of both men and women reported losing money within the last two years, with similar numbers of men and women experiencing some form of unemployment in their households during that same period. Indeed, the predominant reason given for not saving more money for retirement was “I cannot afford to save more for retirement” (69 percent of women, 53 percent of men).

With many American families feeling the pressures of the Great Recession, the study suggests that the very notion of retirement has morphed; no longer regarded as the “golden years” when one could completely stop working, retirement is now considered by many as a change in income streams, not work demands. Seventy-two percent of women and seventy  percent of men not yet retired believe they will keep working even after retirement, while 26 percent of women and 37 percent of men over the age of 60 predicted that they wouldn’t retired until after the age of 70 or that they will never retire at all.

However, this change in the definition of retirement does not reflect a waning of support for Social Security among the American people. Rather, 74 percent of women and 69 percent of men supported paying Social Security taxes to receive benefits from the program upon retirement. An even higher percentage of respondents (88 percent of women and 82 percent of men) said they did not mind paying Social Security taxes to support retired, disabled, orphaned, and widowed Americans. A majority of both men and women surveyed by the study (54 percent and 61 percent, respectively), endorsed increasing Social Security benefits to help Americans who had lost their savings and pensions in the recession. Despite economic hardships experienced within many families, a majority of Americans support Social Security spending not only for their own sakes, but for the wellbeing of others.

And yet the need and support for Social Security found in this study are not well reflected in congressional plans. Congress continues to discuss cutting funding for Social Security without regard to the long-term health of the program. Without strong congressional support for Social Security, the substantial portion of Americans who do not think they have enough money to support themselves in retirement may find themselves in a difficult situation as they age and lose the capacity to work. The will and the hope to ensure Social Security’s survival seems demonstrated in this large-scale survey of the American people—it is up to Congress to translate those sentiments into policy.

Zoe Li is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

Women Workers in a Post-Walmart World

By Katherine Kimpel

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a decision that makes it harder for women in the workplace to protect their rights to be free from discrimination.  In reaching their decision in Dukes v. Walmart, the Justices—the five men who wrote the majority opinion, notably overruling the objections of all three women on the court— assumed that discrimination in the workplace just doesn’t really happen that much anymore. But Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the other men on the court didn’t cite any evidence, didn’t refer to any studies, or even bother to tell any anecdote to back up that claim. They didn’t bother to contend with the fact that individuals and government agencies continually litigate, prove, and then settle or win employment discrimination cases—cases that show that discrimination is, alas, alive and well.

For example, just last year a jury in New York federal court delivered a unanimous verdict against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, finding that the corporation had discriminated against female employees in pay and promotions, and had discriminated against pregnant employees. Although the over $250 million dollars resulting from that verdict was significant, even more important were the 23 pages of changes to policies and procedures that the company later agreed to in order to settle the case.

You see, the brave women who stood up to Novartis to bring that lawsuit helped more than themselves.  They helped the other women at Novartis, by getting the company to change. They helped other women working in the pharmaceutical industry, by sending a message to employers that discrimination will not be tolerated and that litigation can result in just and heavy penalties. And they helped the government, by holding a global corporation accountable to our federal civil rights laws.

Congress knew, when drafting the civil rights laws, that we could never expect the government to shoulder enforcement by itself. They created a system where individual Americans could stand up and act as private attorneys general—essentially privatizing, in part, the enforcement of equal opportunity. However, had last week’s Supreme Court decision in Dukes v. Walmart been the law of the land in 2010 when Novartis was decided, the brave plaintiffs in the case may not have been successful, and the changes at Novartis may never have happened.

For women workers in a post-Walmart world, it is undeniable that the scales are weighted more heavily in favor of corporations, scaling back the progress for which our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers fought so valiantly. That sad fact does not relieve us of responsibility; instead, it simply means that we will all have to fight harder and with more determination than before.

On a day-to-day basis, this fight takes shape in advocating for yourselves in negotiating starting salaries, demanding rightful raises, and pushing aggressively for promotions. This fight takes shape in developing trusted coworkers who will help you benchmark your compensation and better understand the ladders to success. This fight takes shape in keeping detailed records of all of this and of your employers responses, good or bad, so that if the day comes when you or they need to get outside help, you’re ready. This fight takes shape in refusing to be silent when you or a coworker is underpaid, passed over for promotion, subjected to harassment, or disproportionately disciplined.

All of those things are necessary and good, but they are not enough. Women workers— indeed, all workers—in a post-Walmart world need to be proactive about this affront to our fundamental right to equal opportunity. Educate family and friends, write letters to your local paper, and contact your elected representatives to let them know you’re paying attention, you’re concerned, and you expect the Supreme Court’s over-reaching on behalf of corporations to be corrected.

Justice Scalia and the four other men of the majority got it wrong when they assumed that our world is a better place than it is, when they assumed that discrimination doesn’t happen anymore. They got it wrong when they decided that protecting corporations was more important than protecting individual Americans, be they men or women of any race. But the underlying faith in people wasn’t entirely misplaced. Every day, I work with men and women whose bravery to stand up for what is right inspires me. The moment now calls for the rest of us to also stand up to a Supreme Court that has gone too far.

Katherine M. Kimpel is a Partner of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP, a national law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and California.  Ms. Kimpel received her law degree from Yale Law School in 2006. She served as class counsel in the Velez v. Novartis gender discrimination case and authored the amicus brief on behalf of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce in Dukes v. Walmart. Before joining Sanford Wittels & Heisler in 2007, Ms. Kimpel served as Special Counsel to Senator Russell Feingold on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she handled criminal justice and other civil rights issues for the Senator.

Author Finds Technology a Tool Not a Solution in Bridging Divide

By Leah Josephson

People often describe the “digital divide” in terms of high-income individuals’ having access to cutting-edge technology that helps them thrive socially and economically, while low-income individuals are left out. The divide is often cited as a significant source of economic inequality.

At a recent event at Busboys and Poets, Dr. Virginia Eubanks, author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, critiqued this diagnosis as overly simplistic. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Teaching for Change, and DC Jobs with Justice.

Eubanks worked with a group of low-income women who are members of the YWCA community in Troy, NY, and asked the women what they needed. The main problem was not the digital divide. Instead, “more buses, less racism, and fairer employment” were the most popular calls for help.

Eubanks expected these women to have few technological skills. Instead, she found two-thirds of them already working in high-tech jobs, such as data entry or network administration. However, these jobs were low-paying, had few benefits, and were unstable. Technology was ubiquitous in their lives, but they could not use it to improve those lives.

Eubanks realized that simply providing technology and training is not enough to improve women’s lives. Rather, projects need to be designed to account for deeply ingrained racial and gender oppression.

Eubanks, informed by the belief that those closest to problems can best find solutions, worked closely with the women to identify their needs. They created a community technology lab for the YWCA, staffed and sustained by residents, as well as what Eubanks called an “Angie’s List for social services providers,” where the women could provide feedback on their experiences at local assistance agencies.

Even so, access to tech tools was not a high priority for the women. They were more concerned with the basic structural and cultural challenges that affected them on a daily basis—a lack of reliable transportation and workplace flexibility, coupled with racist attitudes.

Eubanks emphasized that technology in itself cannot cure these problems, but it can play a positive role. “We all have a stake in the creation of a more just information age,” she said.

Eubanks noted the creation of new, high-end jobs in technological development—touted by politicians including President Obama as the solution to our country’s economic woes—requires the support of more service industry positions in food service, hospitality, and retail. These lower-income jobs must be fair, provide benefits, and allow for work-life balance to meet the needs of workers.

IWPR has identified other basic benefits that can drastically improve the quality of workers’ lives in the shorter term. For women and their families, guaranteed paid maternity leave (the U.S. is one of only five countries worldwide that doesn’t require employers to provide it) and paid sick days could improve health, well-being, and economic stability.

Pay equity is another problem Eubanks identified. The women would often accept minimal compensation for high-tech jobs, hoping to gain the skills necessary for a higher-paid position. In a society where open discussion of salary is often taboo, these women had little opportunity to identify and express grievances, and only rarely advanced in the workplace.

“Technology is not a destination, it’s another site for struggle,” said Eubanks. In making technological advancements we should consider the quality of life of the workers who perform and enable it. Technology can contribute to a more just society, as long as the privileged consciously use it as a tool to support social justice, and not a ready-made engine of social progress.

Leah Josephson is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Young Women Need Paid Sick Days (Too)

by Claudia Williams

While some workers lacking paid sick leave can take time off without losing pay, many lose pay when they are out sick and cannot afford to take a single day off. This is particularly the case for young women. At an early stage in their careers, many younger women workers are living day to day and others juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.  With limited wealth and savings, a large debt from college or even a steady income, younger women often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when illness strikes. Younger women are often not in a position to take lower pay when sick, especially when medical expenses are involved.

While part-time and low-income workers’ concerns are widely discussed, the needs of younger workers are almost unheard of, as it is usually assumed that their health status—without the burdens of chronic health conditions and age—is excellent, and that they don’t yet have care giving responsibilities.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), however, shows that young workers need paid sick days just like everyone else. In fact, of those private sector workers that reported having fair or poor health, 30 percent were 35 years or younger and a larger portion were young women (18 percent compared to 12 percent for young men). The same data show that a majority of young workers lack paid sick days; only 37 percent have paid sick days, compared to 58 percent of all workers.

Across the board, younger workers have limited access to paid sick days, no matter what they do for living, what their schedule looks like, or the size of the business they work for. For instance, whether young workers are employed in high-end jobs like legal occupations or in lower paying occupations like  health support, data from the NHIS show that only one out of five workers with paid sick days in those occupations are  between 18 and 35 years old.

For younger workers concentrated in traditionally low-income occupations or small businesses, the picture is even grimmer. Along with part-timers, these workers are most often afflicted, and women are overrepresented in this type of work arrangement. The outlook is especially challenging for young women with care giving responsibilities on top of lower earnings: paid sick days are even more essential for them to to stay afloat. For single mothers, usually with limited resources and often living in poverty, having paid sick days can make a big difference when medical problems arise.

Paid sick days are essential to all workers, but even more so to those with limited resources, including younger workers who are more vulnerable and have fewer resources than many of their older counterparts.

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Gay Marriage a Boon to DC’s Economy

By Robert Drago

A year ago today, the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, and according to the Washington Post, the number of marriages soared from 3,100 in the year prior to 6,600 in the year since.  According to a court representative, the number of marriages usually varies by less than 100 from one year to the next, suggesting the increase was mainly due to same-sex couples (the District does not track the gender of marriage partners). In fact, it is likely that the difference of 3,500 additional marriages understates the marriages of same-sex partners, because the national marriage rate has been falling, undoubtedly due to the economic insecurity experienced by millions of Americans in the last few years.

Although you might not know it from media coverage of national politics, the District is a shockingly poor city. A recent IWPR publication reported that the rate of poverty among all black women and girls in the District is 26 percent, and the rate for single mothers is 37 percent. This is a city that needs some help.

Gay marriage can be a boon to the local economy.  Assuming that in 2010, same-sex marriages in DC cost the same as the national average of  $24,000, then gay marriage generated $84 million dollars of additional consumer spending last year.

The Williams Institute has documented the economic benefits of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Colorado and elsewhere. These analyses suggest reasons why the $84 million figure might be overstated  (e.g., purchasing wedding attire or holding wedding receptions outside of the District), but far more reasons why it would be understated – particularly given the high cost of living in Washington DC, and additional spending when wedding guests come in from out of town and stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop.

It might be a coincidence that over a similar time period, Washington, DC saw a net increase of 22,000 new jobs, and was one of only two states to enjoy a decline in the unemployment rate of two percent or more. Then again, maybe gay marriage created some desperately-needed jobs in the District.

What’s at Stake for Women Workers in Wisconsin and Beyond

by Jennifer Clark

Protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo courtesy of CindyH Photography

The budget battles in Wisconsin, Indiana, and across the Midwestern United States have inspired a barrage of commentary about what the successful passage of the proposed state laws to strip public sector unions of their collective bargaining power would mean for public sector workers (not good), black workers (really not good), and the future of the labor movement (really, really not good). Another group with a significant stake in the outcome of these debates over public sector union bargaining power is women.

First, let’s review a few facts about women and labor unions in general. Although unionized women earn more than non-unionized women on average and have access to more benefits, such as paid leave and health insurance, public sector employees are actually paid less than their private sector counterparts, once their qualifications are taken into account. An IWPR report on job retention and low-income mothers found that union membership contributed to keeping moms on the job. In 2010, across race and ethnic groups, male union membership is lowest for Asian men, but Asian women have the highest membership rate of all groups of unionized women.  Black men have the highest union membership, but black women are also more likely than white women to be unionized.  Hispanic women have the lowest rate of union membership compared to other groups of women.

Although male workers are still the majority of union membership, the gap between unionized men and women over the last 25 years has narrowed considerably, with women representing the majority of new workers organized during that time. (For more on women and unions, visit IWPR’s Women in Unions initiative page.)

(Click to enlarge)

Public sector unions like the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Teachers, however, have a majority female membership (52 percent and 60 percent, respectively), which makes the legislative outcome of public sector union bargaining power of particular interest to women workers. Furthermore, as you can see in the figure at left, women are 52 percent of the state public sector workforce and a whopping 61 percent of public workers at the local level (Figure 1).

If we focus on public sector employees at the local level, it becomes clear that women and their families will receive the brunt of the effects of these anti-union bills floating around state capitols in the Midwest. The most common occupation for local public sector women workers is elementary and middle school teachers (22 percent).  The most common occupation for local public sector male workers? Police and sheriff’s patrol officers, a group whose union representatives would be excluded from proposed legislation.

This isn’t to say that men won’t be impacted by any effort to strip public sector unions of their bargaining rights. At the state level, three of the five most common public sector occupations for men are in teaching fields.  Indeed, fire fighters and police unions have come out to protest in support of public sector employees–a blow to public sector union rights is a blow to all union rights.

As more women become breadwinners, women’s families will also feel the effects of any proposed legislation that affects women’s wages. In the U.S. workforce, four in ten women work in female-dominated professions. For example, elementary and middle school teachers–the occupation that is most common for local public sector women–are 81 percent female. Moreover, women earn less than men in 104 out of 108 of the occupational categories, including teaching, for which there is enough data to calculate the wage gap.

With so many women in the public sector at the state and local level, and with a proposed budget bill that would strip public sector unions—especially those representing female-dominated professions—of their bargaining rights, what is the outlook for women workers in Wisconsin and beyond?  Not good.

(This post was updated March 3, 2011)

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The FMLA: Old Enough to Vote, but with Room to Grow

On the occasion of its anniversary, IWPR takes the opportunity to outline the main characteristics of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its impact over the past 18 years.

by Kevin Miller

Saturday, February 5 marks the 18th anniversary of the day that President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 into law. The law requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide 12 weeks of job-protected leave to any employee with one year of job tenure who has worked 1,250 hours within the past year. The law does not require employers to pay employees during this leave, though employees can substitute existing sources of paid leave such as sick days and vacation time in order to receive pay during FMLA leave.

 

Job-Protected Leave

In the 18 years that the FMLA has protected the right of (some) American workers to take job-protected leave, it has helped millions: mothers taking maternity leave and new child leave, fathers taking new child leave, and workers taking medical leave or leave to care for ill or injured family members (a child, spouse, or parent). It remains the only federal law that gives Americans a right to time off work, helping Americans balance work and family.

Gender Neutral

Though FMLA leave can be taken for maternity-disability reasons, it can also be taken to care for a new child regardless of whether that child was born to the employee, born to the employee’s spouse, adopted, or fostered. Nowhere in FMLA is access restricted by gender since the law applies equally to men and women.

Limited Eligibility

A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Labor found that in 2005, 76.1 million workers were eligible for FMLA-protected leave, or 54 percent of the workforce. Of the 65.6 million ineligible workers, 47.3 million worked at establishments too small to be covered and 18.3 million lacked the job tenure or hours-in-job to be eligible.

Unpaid Leave

The United States is one of only five nations (along with Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea) whose workers lack a legal right to paid maternity leave. Australia, which previously guaranteed only unpaid leave, has introduced paid parental leave this year. Some American workers who are eligible to use FMLA leave are unable to afford taking unpaid time off from work: a 2000 survey commissioned by the Department of Labor found that among workers who said they needed FMLA leave but did not take it, 78 percent said that they could not afford to do so without pay.

Unequal Outcomes

Despite the gender neutral language of the FMLA, both the eligibility restrictions and the unpaid nature of the leave contribute to gender inequality. Men and women in the workforce are equally likely to work at a covered employer, but women with young children are 16 percent less likely to meet eligibility requirements than are men with young children. Among eligible workers with young children, however, women are more likely than men to take leave—76 percent compared to 45 percent. The unpaid nature of FMLA leave means that married couples may need to choose one parent to take leave while the other continues to work (and receive pay).

The average full-time female worker made 77 cents on the dollar compared to male workers in 2009, so it often makes financial sense for wives to take leave (or leave work entirely) while husbands remain on the job, a strategy that can leave women earning less for years after they eventually re-enter the labor force.

Room to Grow

Passage of the FMLA took eight years of hard work by advocates, researchers, and policymakers. During that time, provisions for paid leave were removed from the proposed legislation as a compromise, with the implicit promise that the law would be revisited and strengthened over time. The FMLA has been amended in recent years, but only to improve access to unpaid leave for airline employees, and military personnel and their families.

Successful efforts to provide paid leave have been limited to the five states with Temporary Disability Insurance systems (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island), with California and New Jersey expanding their systems to include paid family leave. A recent study of California’s paid family leave system found that implementation of the system had minimal impact on employers and greatly expanded leave for workers in low-quality jobs.

 

The signing of the FMLA in 1993 was a watershed event for American workers, finally providing Americans a job-protected right to time off work. The FMLA has helped millions of Americans take leave from work to care for a new child or family member. However, millions of Americans are not covered by or eligible under the FMLA, and some who are eligible cannot afford to take unpaid time off work. Advocates and policymakers continue to work to expand access to leave that is both job-protected and paid, with the hope that one day Americans will no longer be forced to choose between their jobs and their families.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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