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Jump Starting Real Wage Growth for Women: Increasing the Minimum Wage and Improving Overtime Laws

By Heidi Hartmann

In the context of a lost decade of wage growth for women, two recent proposals—to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour (including increasing the separate minimum wage for tipped workers), and to increase the threshold salary for overtime pay to $50,000 annually—can provide much needed relief to women.  

Increasing the minimum wage requires that the U.S. Congress pass a law. The current minimum wage of $7.25 was set in 2007and went into effect in 2009, but President Obama has already acted by executive order to require firms that hold contracts with the federal government to pay their workers a minimum of $10.10 per hour.  In contrast, increasing the salary threshold for receiving overtime pay, does not require congressional action, but does require action by the Secretary of Labor. President Obama has recently directed Secretary Perez to consider what can be done to ensure that workers are paid fairly for their overtime hours. The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the overtime pay premium at 50 percent more than the regular wage or salary, also known as “time and a half.” Currently the threshold annual salary is set at about $23,000 ($455 per week).  A worker classified as executive, administrative, or professional, who earns more than that annual salary does not currently need to be paid overtime.

Because women earn less than men on average, it is not surprising that women are the majority—64 percent—of those who earn the minimum wage and would thus benefit disproportionately from an increase in the minimum wage.  Economists expect that employers will also increase the pay of workers earning somewhat above the minimum, in keeping with past experience of minimum wage increases.  An EPI analysis shows that 15.3 million women—9.6 million directly and 5.7 million through the spillover effect— would receive a pay increase were the minimum wage to be raised to $10.10 per hour.  EPI also finds that nearly one-third of all working single mothers—or 2.3 million women—would receive a direct or indirect pay increase. Overall 55 percent of workers who would benefit from the increase are women.

A new report from the White House released earlier this morning points out that an even larger proportion of those affected by the tipped minimum wage—which has been stuck at $2.13 per hour since 1991—are women:  72 percent of tipped workers are women in occupations such as hair stylists, restaurant servers, and bartenders.  Employers need pay such workers only $2.13 per hour on the assumption that tips will raise their pay to the required $7.25 per hour.  According the White House report, about 10 percent of workers in these jobs say that does not happen.  The average wages of tipped workers are very low and their likelihood of being in poverty is high.  The White House analysis finds that about half of workers in tipped occupations would benefit from the proposal to increase the tipped minimum wage to $4.90 per hour by 2016. Of those whose wages would increase, 74 percent are women.

Likewise, women are the majority (54 percent) of all supervisory, managerial, and professional workers earning less than the proposed new overtime threshold of $984 per week, meaning that 5.3 million women would be newly covered by a requirement to be paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week. Currently, about 1 million of these women typically work more than 40 hours per week and would have to be paid 50 percent more for those additional hours beyond 40.   Furthermore, of all those high-level workers who earn above the new threshold and would not be required to be paid overtime, only 37 percent are women.  (Findings reference an unpublished analysis by EPI’s Heidi Shierholz.)

These two changes—the first by law, the second by regulation, and both administered by the Wages and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor—would help ensure that real wages rise for millions of women, not to mention many men, in the coming decade.  In its new report the White House estimates that the minimum wage change alone would close the wage gap between women and men by more than one percentage point.

Heidi Hartmann, PhD, is the founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Equal Pay for Women and a Higher Minimum Wage Will Move the Economy Forward

by Heidi Hartmann

This post originally appeared on Working Economics, the blog of the Economic Policy Institute.

Heidi Hartmann,Yesterday morning, I had the honor of participating in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing, hosted by Leader Nancy Pelosi, in the Cannon House Office Building. Appearing with Lilly Ledbetter—whose story of pay discrimination went all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately resulted in new legislation in 2009 named after her—and Laura Miu, a psychological counselor, who recently experienced pay discrimination, I was able to share recent research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which I lead, and by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the think tank that provides the last word on virtually all topics related to American workers. The briefing attracted 20 members of Congress, including Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Robert Andrews, who co-chair the Steering and Policy Committee, and Representatives Donna Edwards and Doris Matsui, who chair and vice-chair, respectively, the Democratic Women’s Working Group. IWPR’s research was originally released in January when it appeared in the latest Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, produced in partnership with the Center for American Progress. EPI’s research was published as an update in December 2013 of an earlier paper last spring that details the impact of an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

The economic progress women have made in the past five decades is enormous. Women have entered many occupations that had been virtually closed to them, now earn more over their lifetimes, and contribute more to family income and to the economy as a whole than ever before.

But there is still a long way to go. Despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which makes it easier for women to sue for equal pay—avoiding a similar plight as the bill’s namesake, when she learned she was earning vastly unequal pay near the end of her career—progress toward closing the pay gap has stagnated. Since 2000, the wage ratio has remained around 76.5 percent. If trends of the past five decades are projected forward, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity.

Our researchers at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research have shown that if women received pay equal to comparable men, the poverty rate of all working women and their families would fall by half, from 8.1 percent to 3.9 percent. The number of women affected is substantial: 42.5 million working women—about 60 percent of all working women—would receive a pay increase, with the average annual pay increase estimated at $6,251 (including $0 amounts for those who got no raise). Moreover, paying women the same as comparable men would have added an additional $448 billion (equivalent to almost 3 percent of GDP) to the economy in 2012, about the equivalent of adding another state the size of Virginia to the nation.

Raising the minimum wage has been estimated to have a similarly dramatic effect on growing the economy and reducing poverty, especially among women. In a recent research paper, David Cooper at EPI calculates that 27.8 million workers—nearly a fifth of working Americans—would be directly and indirectly affected by an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, across the three years 2014 -2016. These pay increases, Cooper estimated, would result in the GDP increasing by 0.3 percent ($22 billion). Moreover, 85,000 new jobs would be created by the additional spending power of low-wage workers.

Cooper shows that women would constitute 55 percent of the workers affected directly and indirectly by the increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour: 15.3 million women would receive a pay increase. The typical minimum wage worker is 35 years of age and provides half her or his family income. Nearly one-fifth of American children have at least one parent whose earnings would be raised by an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Moreover, unpublished EPI data shows that 2.3 million single mothers, or nearly one-third of all working single mothers, would be directly and indirectly affected by the increase in the federal minimum wage.

The members present at the hearing were eager to hear about the importance of eliminating the gender pay gap and increasing the minimum wage, but they were also intensely interested in the issue of pay secrecy. Lilly Ledbetter explained that she had been told when hired that if she so much as discussed her pay with anyone she would be immediately let go. The members wanted to know how many other people might be affected by pay secrecy. A survey conducted by IWPR in 2010 was the first and (so far as we know), the only survey to look into pay secrecy. The survey found that, like Ledbetter, many workers do not know what their colleagues are being paid and are unlikely to be able to find out. More than 60 percent (62 percent of women, 60 percent of men) of private-sector workers responded that discussing pay at work is either strongly discouraged or prohibited.  By contrast, only 18 percent of female public-sector workers and 11 percent of male public-sector workers reported being discouraged from discussing pay rates or fearing penalties for doing so, and the gender wage gap is much smaller in the public-sector than in the private-sector.

Public policies can combat both unequal pay and low minimum wages. More than half of the states have made pay adjustments in their civil service systems that raise the pay of female-dominated jobs. Firms that contract with local and state governments and the federal government to provide goods and services can be required to meet standards, such as non-retaliation toward workers who share pay information or a higher minimum wage (as President Obama said in the State of the Union speech that he would require of federal contractors), or report their gender wage ratios within job categories, as has been done in New Mexico for state contractors.

The stall in the economic progress of women in the past decade, coupled with the large number of women and families who would benefit from increases in women’s earnings resulting from stronger equal pay remedies and a higher federal minimum wage, make the case that implementing new laws and public policies is urgent. Paying women equally and raising the minimum wage would significantly reduce poverty and boost the growth of the U.S. economy.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is the president and founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Woman server with plateHeading out this Valentine’s Day? Keep restaurant workers’ well-being in-mind.

By Courtney Kishbaugh

Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day to dine out, according to the National Restaurant Association. As couples flock to restaurants all over the country, they should keep in mind that the backhouse realities of the restaurant industry are far from romantic.

It takes a bit of research to know the issues that restaurant workers are handling on the job—like harassment from co-workers, lack of benefits such as paid sick days, and low pay—since they are not evident from within a candle-lit dining room.  But with a bit of information, diners can choose to visit food establishments that value job quality and workers’ well-being.

The restaurant industry can be an especially difficult workplace for women. The combination of high rates of sexual harassment, low wages, and unstable work schedules all disproportionately affect women, and their economic security.

Treatment that would typically incite outrage in many other workplaces is considered the norm in restaurants, and women are suffering for it. Sexual harassment is a huge problem in the restaurant industry. Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that, in 2011, almost 37 percent of sexual harassment cases reported that year occurred in restaurants, making the restaurant industry the “single largest source of sexual harassment claims.” Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that actions typically seen as unacceptable in most workplaces are customary in restaurants.

Simultaneously, the majority of people earning the tipped minimum wage is female. (The federal tipped minimum wage is now $2.13 per hour, and tips are supposed to bring the workers at least up to the regular federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.) Women tend to be stuck in lower paying positions in the kitchen or dining room, rather than rising through the ranks to salaried jobs, evidenced by the fact that women fill only 19 percent of the higher paying chef positions. Though the restaurant I worked at was high-end and earning less than the regular minimum wage was never an issue, Women’s eNews reported  that “tipped workers are more likely to fall into poverty than those who receive [the regular] minimum wage,” and that “servers rely on food stamps at nearly double the rate of the general population.”

In addition, though female servers make up the majority in casual dining establishments, a male majority workforce prevails in fine dining. This leads to further income inequality because women are not only stuck in tipped positions, but also prevented from moving into the higher paid bracket of the tipped positions. The proportion of female servers was much lower at a fine dining restaurant I worked in, and very few women worked in the salaried manager or kitchen positions, outside of the dessert and pastry shop.

The industry’s unstable work schedule disproportionately affects women, who often are primary caretakers in their families. Many restaurants stay open until the last customer leaves, while others have hours that go until three in the morning. Child care centers are seldom open at these late hours, leaving women hard-pressed to find adequate child care. Furthermore, last-minute schedule changes, based on customer volume, can make it difficult for women to make arrangements for their family, a situation already made challenging by low pay.

However, these facts should not ruin the prospect of eating out on Valentine’s Day.  Those planning on eating out should consider using the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) dining guide (available either as a PDF or as a free mobile app for smartphones) that details which restaurants pay their workers fairly and provide them with benefits, such as paid sick days. The guide covers a number of restaurants in major cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Supporting establishments that treat their workers fairly is a step in the right direction to improve the situation of restaurant staff in general, especially women, by increasing their economic security.

Courtney Kishbaugh is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is currently a student at Georgetown University.

Living on a Dime: Small Wages and Large Gender Wage Gap in Restaurant Industry, According to Recent Report

By Margaret Kran-Annexstein

If I were to tell you that there are workers in the United States being paid $2.13 per hour, you’d probably tell me that that’s impossible because the minimum wage in this country is $7.25 and anything less is illegal. Well, you’d be right of course, but unfortunately, regulations on the tipped minimum wage have not kept up with the federal minimum wage.

In February, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), in conjunction with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and a number of other organizations, released Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequality in the Restaurant Industry. Among its other findings, this report exposes the restaurant business as an industry that has found a way to skirt the federal minimum wage, exacerbate the gender wage gap, and further reduce the economic security of employees by not providing health insurance or paid sick leave to most workers.

In 1991, the tipped minimum wage was 50 percent of the federal minimum wage. However, when the federal minimum wage increased in 1996, the tipped minimum wage remained the same and has not been adjusted. Today, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the tipped minimum wage remains at $2.13 an hour, less than 30 percent of the generally accepted $7.25 federal minimum wage. Although some states choose to raise that minimum, these regulations allow the restaurant industry to shortchange a vast number of its employees—a disproportionate number of whom are women.

As a student with many female friends working in the restaurant industry to help pay enormous tuition bills, I was disturbed by the findings of this report. The reality is that tipped workers often must rely on the generosity of their customers to make a living. Technically, employers are supposed to pay the difference if a worker does not make the minimum in wages plus tips but this requirement may not always be upheld or enforced. As one woman from Fort Worth, Texas testifies, “I can’t tell you how many times I made less than $20–$40 a day during the lunch rush…LOTS…I don’t understand how restaurants get away with not paying their employees minimum wage…”

Gender Segregation in the Dining Room

The notion that women and men should be paid equal wages is also overlooked due to hiring practices in the restaurant industry that solidify the gender wage gap. Female restaurant workers make on average 79 percent of what men do because women tend to hold the lower-paid positions in the restaurant world.

Women, especially women of color, hold a disproportionate amount of jobs in lower-paying restaurants while men dominate fine dining establishments—where wages can be 24 percent higher than wages in family style restaurants. Women who do obtain positions in fine dining are seldom hired as captains or martre d’s, the higher ranking, cushier positions with more supervising duties and less reliance on tips. One account from Tipped Over the Edge quotes a general manager refusing to hire a qualified women of color saying, “You don’t have the look to be a maître d’, but I can hire you as a hostess.”

There are laws that effectually set in stone wage inequality because these different ranks in restaurants hold different minimum wage requirements (the restaurant industry is one of the only sectors where you can find this discrepancy).

Many restaurant workers simply do not have enough money to support themselves: servers are forced to use food stamps at almost double the rate of the rest of the population. Rather than hold employers accountable to their staff, taxpayers have become responsible for the livelihood of many employed people through the size of their tips and the generosity of state programs.

“Try Not to Get Sick”

Not only do many restaurant workers receive painfully low wages, they often cannot afford to stay home when they get sick. In fact, ninety percent of restaurant workers lack paid sick days. One testimony from Tipped Over the Edge quotes a laughing manager telling a sick employee, who was concerned that if she did not go home she would make others sick, to “try not to cough.” Ninety percent of restaurant employees also lack employer-covered health insurance, making it even more difficult for them to seek medical care. Not only is this a violation of workers’ rights, it doesn’t make me feel very safe when I go out to try the best veggie burgers in DC.

My friends have to work in these unfair conditions but, unlike many restaurant workers, they have health insurance from their parents and are not providing for dependent children. For a single mother supporting a child on her own, Tipped Over the Edge shows that the restaurant industry can be a hostile work environment that lacks adequate living wages. Clearly change needs to come to the restaurant industry.

Margaret Kran-Annexstein is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

A Woman’s Face on the Minimum Wage Issue

Senator Kennedy and Vicky Lovell
From left to right: Entmacher, Lovell, Gandy, Kennedy and Stabenow (Photo by Michelle Schafer)

On January 24th, Senator Kennedy held a press conference in the Russell Senate Office Building. Joined by Senators Stabenow and Klobuchar as well as Kim Gandy, President of NOW, Dr. Vicky Lovell of IWPR and Joan Entmacher, Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center, the press conference focused on putting a woman’s face on the minimum wage issue.
In the wake of the Senate delaying a vote on the House measure to raise the minimum wage, Senator Kennedy wanted to make sure the public understands the urgency of the issue. The minimum wage, as all the speakers noted, affects women and families more than any other groups. As Dr. Lovell presented (view the PDF of her statement here), the nearly 8 million women working at or near minimum wage are currently only earning about $10,712 per year or $893 a month. At this rate a woman would have to work three jobs to support a family of 3 or more without living in poverty, and that’s pretty much impossible.
Two of the Senators noted that they remembered what it was like working a minimum wage job, and each commented how lucky he or she was to not have to work for such low wages. Senator Klobuchar spoke about women she’d recently spoken with who were working minimum wage jobs and had a very hard time scraping together enough money to put their children through college. All the speakers were very disappointed that the vote was being put on hold, although Senator Kennedy was proud to announce that five Republican Senators had joined with the Democrats in support of the measure.
Kim Gandy summed up the sentiments of the day clearly when she stated, “paying a living wage is an investment in the future of the United States. Good for hardworking families, good for business, and good for the country.” Hopefully the bill will make it to the floor and be passed clear of any tax cuts for big businesses. It is wonderful to see Senators Kennedy, Stabenow, and Klobuchar along with 51 other Senators, come together to vote for working women in America.
– Elisabeth Crum

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