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IWPR Survey Finds Construction Trades Offer Good Wages for Women Workers, but Harassment and Discrimination Still Common

by Ariane Hegewisch

During the past 40 years, many previously male-dominated occupations have become integrated, but women’s share of construction trades jobs has remained below five percent. Despite this, because the construction industry is so large, more women work in the construction trades than work as dental hygienists, pharmacists, or veterinarians. As the construction industry continues to add jobs in the recovery following the Great Recession, and as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that construction occupations will see above average employment growth in the coming years, the question of how to unblock the construction industry for women is once again on the agenda and gaining interest: a recent webinar on women in construction hosted by the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor attracted close to 1,000 registrants.

Two new IWPR publications provide insights into women’s experiences working in construction and offer suggestions for how to reduce barriers to entry. An IWPR Research-in-Brief, Women in Construction and the Economic Recovery: Results from the 2013 IWPR Tradeswomen Survey, presents results from an exploratory survey conducted in the spring of 2013. The survey, which includes responses from over 200 women working in the trades, presents a mixed picture. Over 40 percent of tradeswomen respondents earned at least $50,000 in 2012. Yet, only 27 percent had been able to work year-round and 22 percent of respondents were unemployed.Figure from Tradeswoman BP

Fewer than two-thirds of respondents report equal treatment when it comes to being respected on the job, hiring and allocation of hours, and assignments. Only 42 percent report equal treatment when it comes to promotions, and 30 percent report that they are “always” or “frequently” sexually harassed. Rates of racial harassment and discrimination, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and age discrimination are even higher and, in fact, more than one in ten respondents have taken discrimination claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Another recent study, Untapped Resources, Untapped Labor Pool: Using Federal Highway Funds to Prepare Women for Careers in Construction, provides examples of how women’s under-representation in construction is being addressed by targeted policies and funding in Oregon and Maryland. Since 2009, Oregon has reserved part of its federal highway funding to increase diversity in the highway construction workforce. Oregon has funded child care and other retention services for construction apprentices, pre-apprenticeship training, career fairs and outreach, and supervisor training for employers on how to tackle workplace discrimination and harassment. Retention rates for women and minority male apprentices have improved significantly, and women’s share of construction apprenticeships in Oregon is twice the national rate.

The first brief shows what is keeping many women out of construction jobs, and what is needed to help them get into and succeed in the trades. But turning that knowledge into action takes resources. The second brief offers examples from Oregon and Maryland for creating a stable funding source to build diversity in the construction workforce.
Ariane Hegewisch is a Study Director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women Report

by Jessica Milli, Ph.D.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of 1963’s American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored a series of Scholars’ Papers. As part of this effort, IWPR prepared papers on parental leave and on occupational segregation and the wage gap.

Paid Parental Leave in the United States reviews research and data sources on paid leave for family related purposes. Despite the recommendation in the 1963 report that paid maternity leave be pro­vided for female workers, it took another thirty years’ for the passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to provide at least unpaid job protected maternity and paternity leave. Due to the structure of the FMLA, as of 2012, only 59 percent of workers were eli­gible for FMLA leave. With the exception of a few states with more generous family leave policies, FMLA leave is unpaid, and many families cannot afford to use it as much as they would like.

The IWPR paper also details previous research on the economic and health benefits of paid family leave. Paid family leave can improve the labor force at­tachment of workers, improve employee morale and productivity, reduce worker turnover, and positively impact economic growth. Such benefits to firms may help offset the costs of implementing paid leave policies. Research further suggests that expanding paid leave is likely to have economy-wide benefits such as reduced spending on public assistance programs and increased labor force participa­tion. Access to leave, whether it is paid or not, can increase breastfeeding rates and duration, reduce the risk of infant mortality, and increase the likelihood of infants receiving well-baby care and vaccinations.

The paper also reviews federal data sources on paid and unpaid leave and highlights gaps and inconsistencies in the information avail­able. The paper argues for a more sys­tematic federal effort to improve the data infrastructure on this important benefit for working families.

Occupational Segregation and the Gender Wage Gap documents changes since the 1960s in the types of jobs that men and women perform and links those trends with recent lack of change in the gender wage gap. Women have made large strides toward equality in the labor force, including increasing their representation in occupations that have traditionally been dominated by men— such as management, accounting, and law. However, not all occupations have seen increased integration over the years, and many remain heavily male- or female-dominated. The paper docu­ments that progress has stalled, point­ing out that both progress in improving occupational integration and progress in closing the gender wage gap stalled at the beginning of the last decade. This relationship suggests that occupa­tional segregation should be a priority of policy efforts to address the wage gap, either by focusing on encourag­ing women to enter more integrated or male-dominated occupations, or by im­proving earnings in female-dominated occupations, or both.

The papers are available on the Women’s Bureau website and on IWPR’s website.

Jessica Milli, Ph.D. is an IWPR Senior Research Associate.

Top 8 IWPR Findings of 2013

1.       If current trends continue, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity.

Based on an IWPR analysis that projects recent trends forward, most women working today will not see equal pay during their working lives. Furthermore, 2012 Earnings figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that real earnings have failed to grow, and the gender wage gap has stayed essentially unchanged since 2001.

2.       Black women, Latinas, and Native American women make up just two percent of STEM faculty at US colleges and universities.

In 2010, underrepresented minority (URM) women (blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and those who identify as more than one race) were just 2.1 percent of STEM faculty at U.S. 4-year colleges and universities, while comprising 13 percent of the US working aged population. In contrast, white men held 58 percent of these positions, while making up 35 percent of the working age population. The highest level of representation for URM women faculty is in the life sciences and the lowest is in computer science and mathematics.

3.       Of all African American college students in the United States, nearly four in ten are parents. 

Despite the centrality of parenthood to the college experiences of many students of color (including nearly four in ten of African American students, one in three of Native American students, and one in four of Latino students), too few postsecondary institutions directly address their needs or experiences as student-parents, or even know how many parents they have on campus. In fact, campus child care serves less than five percent of the child care needs of college students, and the proportion of public postsecondary institutions with on-campus child care is declining.

4.      In the recovery from the recent recession, women have regained all the jobs they lost, whereas men have regained only 75 percent of the jobs they lost.

In fact, more women are working today than ever before. Despite gains, neither men nor women have regained their pre-recession labor force participation rate, with women’s labor force participation rate peaking in 2000. If the number of jobs had grown as fast as the working age population since the start of the recession, women would hold 3.8 million more jobs in November 2013 and men would hold an additional 5.4 million. Were it not for women’s strong presence in a few growing industries, however, women would have fared much worse than they did in the recovery, as women have either lost proportionately more jobs or gained proportionately fewer jobs than men within each industry—meaning that men’s rate of employment growth has been higher than women’s in every industry.

5.       Expanding paid sick days to newly covered workers in Washington, DC, will save DC employers approximately $2 million per year. Paid sick days also passed in a number of new jurisdictions in 2013.

While DC was among the first cities to pass citywide paid sick days legislation in 2008, the law excluded a number of workers—including most tipped workers—and started coverage only after workers have been employed by a particular employer for more than one year and 1,000 hours. The recently passed amendment to DC’s existing policy, not only expands protections to even more workers in DC. IWPR analysis shows that employers can expect to see the cost of implementing this new policy offset by increased employee productivity, reduced worker absences associated with less contagion of communicable diseases in the workplace, and reduced employee turnover. IWPR’s analyses also helped advocates and policymakers pass new paid sick days laws in New York City and Portland, and inform proposed legislation in Newark, Philadelphia, and proposed statewide legislation in Oregon, Vermont, and Maryland.

6.       Four of the 20 most common occupations for women pay poverty wages.

Occupations that are common to women provide lower earnings: Four of the 20 most common occupations for women—‘maids and housekeeping cleaners,’ ‘waitresses,’ ‘cashiers,’ and ‘retail sales persons’—have median earnings for a full-time week of work that are insufficient to lift a family of four out of poverty. An additional two of the most common occupations for women pay near poverty wages, meaning that six of the 20 occupations common to women pay at or near poverty wages. In fact, male poverty has significantly declined since 2010, while women’s poverty levels have stayed steady, leading to a growing gender poverty gap.

7.       While women hold about half all jobs in the country, they hold only three out of ten jobs in the growing green economy, and are especially underrepresented in the green jobs that are expected to grow the most.

In 33 states, women in green jobs earn at least $1,000 more per year for full-time year-round work than women in the overall economy. However, women are missing from the fastest growing green occupations. For example, many new jobs are expected to be added for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians, but fewer than two percent of HVAC technicians in the United States are women.

8.       90 percent of in-home health care workers are women, 56 percent are from a minority racial or ethnic group, and 28 percent are immigrants.

As the Baby Boom generation ages (every 8 seconds another American turns 65), women immigrant in-home care workers are filling a gap in home care labor for the elderly.  By 2018, the direct care workforce is expected to number more than 4 million positions, an expansion of 1.1 million workers since 2008. The occupations of home health aides and personal care aides are expected to grow at the fastest rates. Immigrants make up a disproportionate share of the in-home health care workforce at 28 percent, and one in five immigrant direct care workers is undocumented. Lack of legal immigration status leaves many vulnerable to low wages and poor working conditions.

This post was compiled by Jennifer Clark, the Communications Manager for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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