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The Real Value of In-Home Care Work in the United States

Care worker with elderly womanBy Caroline Dobuzinskis

Baby Boomers, estimated at nearly 80 million in the United States, began turning 65 in 2011.By 2020, the population of older adults is expected to grow to 55 million from 40.4 million in 2010. As more women enter the labor force and fewer are able to care for older family members, providing in-home care to the growing aging population, as well as the disabled and chronically ill, is becoming more critical to a robust U.S. economy.

A new briefing paper by IWPR, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” outlines these challenges but emphasizes that, despite the growing demand, in-home care work jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

While often working long hours to care for others, many in-home care workers cannot afford to take care of their own needs. According to IWPR’s analysis, the median weekly earnings for all female in-home care workers are $308, compared with $560 for all female workers in the U.S. workforce. In-home care workers are also excluded from coverage by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that helps ensure basic standards of living for U.S. workers by requiring employers to pay minimum wages and provide overtime compensation.

The general lack of value placed on paid care work is due to a number of complex factors. Research suggests that what is seen as traditionally women’s labor, at all skill levels, reaps lower economic rewards. The simple fact that the majority of paid care work is performed by women could contribute to its lower average wages. Care work also blurs the lines between formal and informal labor, which can result in the workers being perceived as part of the family and make it more difficult for them to set boundaries that define the requirements and terms of their jobs.

Many in-home care workers are immigrants who may lack pathways to legal status, leaving them vulnerable to low levels of pay and to abuses from employers. According to IWPR research analysis, 90 percent of home health care aides in the United States are women, 56 percent are women of color, and 28 percent are foreign-born with the vast majority (60 percent) migrating from Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the fact that these immigrant workers are filling an essential labor gap, many remain undocumented and without clear access to citizenship or visa status. Many domestic worker and immigrant groups are waiting to see if Congress will address this issue.

Among the recommendations in IWPR’s report, Increasing Pathways to Legal Status for Immigrant in-Home Care Workers (published February 2013), is an increase in the number and types of immigration visas available to immigrant care workers to help fill the labor shortage in the U.S. industry. The most recent immigration deal being crafted the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of U.S. senators tasked with finding immigration reform solutions, includes an option to provide temporary work visas to undocumented immigrants performing essential, low-skilled labor.

IWPR’s briefing paper, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” proposes several changes that would improve circumstances for all care workers and recipients, as well as the industry as whole, including:

1. Encouraging public dialogue about the growing need for care work and the skills and contributions of those who provide in-home care

2. Improving estimates of the value of unpaid care work and making the public more aware of this work’s critical importance to the nation’s economy.

3. Implementing public policies that affirm the value of care work and those who provide it.

4. Creating more quality in-home care work jobs that will improve the employment prospects of the female workforce, help to reduce inequality, and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Many groups and organizations, such as Caring Across Generations, support improved workers rights for care workers nationwide. New York State passed a law entitling domestic workers to, among other provisions, a minimum wage, pay for overtime hours, one day of rest for every seven days, and at least three paid leave days per year after one year of work for the same employer. Further policies are still needed that affirm the value of care work in order to reduce the inequality in wages for these workers and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

Leaning In, Lifting Up, and Making Success Achievable for All Women

Jennifer Clark headshot 2013

By Jennifer Clark

A little over 25 years ago, Dr. Heidi Hartmann dashed between meetings and a part-time fellowship in a 1969 Buick with a couple of boxes of files dedicated to research on women’s economic security in the back of a rather sizable trunk. This corner of Dr. Hartmann’s Buick can safely be referred to as the first unofficial office of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The meetings she shuffled between were to unearth funding here and there for gender analysis on women’s role in a modern workforce. With a Ph.D. in Economics from Yale, Dr. Hartmann began her research career at National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council studying the underpayment of jobs typically done by women (for example, secretary, teacher, nurse). When she co-founded IWPR with other social scientists, she was driven by an awareness of the persistence of women’s inequality and economic insecurity, an awareness fostered by her upbringing in a single-mother, single-income household.

Still, there was a hesitation to jump into the all-consuming mission of establishing a sustainable research institute; Dr. Hartmann and her partner had three young children and raising a young family without her regular salary would have been difficult. But 25 years later, IWPR is no longer relegated to the back of a 1969 Buick. The think tank, one of the most preeminent on women’s issues, has proper offices in Washington, D.C., and has informed improved policies for women, from the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to countless state and local policies on paid sick days, early childhood education, and access to government services and benefits.

Photo courtesy Chet Susslin, National Journal

Dr. Heidi Hartmann, IWPR president and co-founder. Photo courtesy Chet Susslin, National Journal

In the context of the conversation of the moment about women in the workforce, most recently re-ignited by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Dr. Hartmann’s decision to launch IWPR could be described as her “lean in” moment. (Read Dr. Hartmann’s full Lean In story on LeanIn.org.) Sandberg aims to encourage more women to “lean in” to their careers, rather than “lean back” when they decide to start a family.

The criticism against Sandberg has piled up quickly, as it tends to with successful women forging their own paths. In a nutshell, the critics say: Sandberg is too privileged—too much of the exception, not enough of the rule. To be sure, a lot of the criticism makes a fair point about who the Lean In movement aims to empower and who it doesn’t. The Lean In debate also seems to hinge on the tension between the structural barriers women face in the workforce—the gender wage gap, for instance—versus the individual, internalized social barriers—such as the confidence to negotiate a raise—that Sandberg aims to address.

IWPR signed on as a Lean In partner because we feel being part of this conversation is important. The history of IWPR, and indeed many women-led institutions, originates at the intersection of a desire for structural change and the realization of personal empowerment. The Lean In philosophy is certainly not a universal antidote for all working women’s lives, and that’s fine. As Jessica Valenti noted in her Washington Post piece about Sandberg and the feminist criticism she has received: “[T]he last thing the feminist movement needs is a leader who universalizes women’s experiences—this has been part of the problem with feminism in the past.” The problem is not that Sandberg is not speaking for a broader range of women; it is that a broader range of women’s voices do not have the same platform to be heard. Rather than dismiss Sandberg’s effort, we could strive to lift up the voices of other women along with Sandberg’s, ensuring that the evolving discussion about women and work is an inclusive one.

_We are leaning in because   _ WhiteIf Sandberg’s book aims to offer practical suggestions for improving the internal circumstances of women’s advancement in the workplace, then IWPR’s archive of over 600 publications aims to offer research-backed policy recommendations for improving the external circumstances of women’s advancement in the workforce. In a Venn diagram of these two approaches, at the center would be the concept of “support.”

One of Sandberg’s most controversial pieces of advice for young women is to seek out a supportive spouse who will accept a fair share of domestic and caregiving responsibilities. But Sandberg’s focus on support within interpersonal and familial relationships and on the personal challenges women struggle with internally, is just one part of the equation. The society-wide support women receive, or could receive, is the rest of the story. IWPR and its partner organizations have done a lot of work to quantify the structural challenges that limit working women, identifying opportunities to update policies for a modern workforce in the following areas:

Paid family leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was a landmark law guaranteeing unpaid leave with job security for workers who needed to care for newborns, newly adopted children, and family members with serious health conditions, or for their own illness. Notably, the law did not guarantee paid family or parental leave. Currently, the United States is one of only a few countries in the world that does not guarantee some form of paid parental leave, joining Swaziland, Liberia, Sierra Leon and Papua New Guinea.

-Gender wage gap. After steadily narrowing for a couple of decades, the gap between women’s and men’s earnings stagnated in the last decade. Last year, it actually widened. As evidence against the rationalization that women choose occupations in which they earn less, men earn more than women in almost every occupation, including 19 of the 20 occupations most commonly held by women.

Access to higher education. The best path to a job that pays a living wage capable of sustaining a family is through postsecondary education. IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative aims to inform institutional leaders and policymakers on the need for student parent supports—better access to affordable child care on campus, for instance—to increase postsecondary participation and graduation rates within the United States. (Even student parents are “leaning in.” Sarah Towne, a former IWPR intern wrote an impassioned story about her experience as a student parent on The Huffington Post. “I don’t plan on letting up on that gas pedal anytime soon,” she said of continuing her education.)

-Women’s political and civic leadership. Building a pipeline of women leaders in a range of settings—elected office, union leadership, and community organizing—is key to ensuring a range of women’s voices influence and inform public discussion and policymaking affecting working women and families.

IWPR will continue—or should we say, lean into—this conversation on May 22 in D.C., when it will celebrate its first quarter century and launch its next 25 years with an afternoon symposium on the current and future status of women in the United States and abroad. The debate surrounding who the Lean In movement aims to speak to, and for, has sparked a parallel conversation about who it leaves out. At least in the context of IWPR’s work, I look forward to the conversation that moves beyond the who and tackles the how: How do we make success achievable for all working women?

Jennifer Clark is the Outreach Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR Recommends Thorough Assessment of DC’s Paid Sick Leave Law

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

In honor of Labor Day and the 44 million workers around the country who lack paid sick leave, IWPR released a briefing paper that recommends the Auditor of the District of Columbia conduct a thorough and complete review that shows the impact of the city’s paid sick leave policy. In March 2008, the District of Columbia joined San Francisco to become only the second jurisdiction in the United States to pass a paid sick days law. Reviewing the law for the breadth of its impact on businesses, workers, and the economy, is important as legislation moves forward in other parts of the country.

Since the passage of the DC paid sick days law, the city of Seattle and the state of Connecticut also added legislation to provide workers with paid sick days. Seattle’s paid sick leave law was actually implemented over this Labor Day weekend. Other state and city jurisdictions across the country are considering similar paid sick days legislation since access to paid sick leave can be crucial for helping workers maintain their health and well-being.

Access to paid sick days is important for working families and especially important for women since they tend to be primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives. When a child needs to stay home from work because of the flu, it is important that a worker be able to securely afford the time off to be a caregiver.

DC’s was the first law to require provisions for victims of domestic violence to seek aid or services. Time off accrued under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act can also be utilized to seek medical, legal or other services to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

As one of the pioneering cities to pass a law requiring paid sick days for its workers, DC may serve as an example for other jurisdictions considering similar laws. According to research from IWPR, there are significant benefits to having paid sick days laws that impact employees, the general public, and businesses. Based on a survey of workers and employers in San Francisco who were affected by that city’s paid sick leave law, IWPR found that two-thirds of businesses supported the law. IWPR research analyses have also shown that workers who have access to paid sick days tend to have better self-reported health.

Under the current DC paid sick days law, the Auditor of the District of Columbia is required to conduct a review, based on an audit sample of District businesses, to ensure that the law is being properly implemented and that employers are not circumventing requirements through hiring patterns. But to meet the end goal of the Auditor’s report, which is to assess the economic effects of the law on the private sector, IWPR recommends a more complete assessment.

IWPR recommends that the Auditor undertake a survey of workers and employers to ensure that compliance is being undertaken. A survey of workers would help to get the full story on how well the law has been implemented or its effectiveness in covering workers who may need to take time off when they or a family member is ill. This survey would also help determine if workers are aware of the law. In surveying workers for an assessment of San Francisco’s paid sick leave legislation, IWPR found that many workers covered under the city’s paid sick leave law were not aware of it.

Also, IWPR recommends that the Auditor take advantage of data sources that already exist that can provide evidence of any net effect of the law on the number of businesses and employees in the District. Finally, IWPR recommends the creation of an advisory committee with experts on paid sick leave, lending greater context and better evaluation to the study.

The steps recommended in IWPR’s briefing paper could help to create a more effective and comprehensive assessment of DC’s Accrued Leave and Safe Leave Act that would serve as a model for other cities. Understanding how the law will is being implemented will demonstrate its full impact beyond the books, serving as a living example for other cities to help improve health and well being of their workers.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Rallying Together Around Issues Critical to Women and Families at NOW Conference 2012

IWPR staff and interns attended the NOW Conference in June.

By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) had the opportunity to participate in the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) national conference in Baltimore, Maryland in June. The annual conference is the largest gathering of women’s groups and advocates in the country and attracted several accomplished leaders in women’s policy and advocacy, including Representative Carolyn Maloney, Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler (responsible for the enactment of Title IX), political strategist and MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball, and playwright and women’s advocate Eve Ensler.

By participating in or moderating a number of conference panels and presentations, IWPR researchers and other policy experts facilitated a “Mothers and Caregivers Summit” that took place over two days of the three-day convention. With the country on the steps of a possible care crisis as Baby Boomers begin to age, raising awareness on issues related to mothers and caregivers is particularly timely. This also being an election year, it is a crucial time to shine the spotlight on the importance of economic and family supports for women, who are more likely than men to act as caregivers for children and older relatives.

The conference summit consisted of four panel discussions on topics including the importance of family leave and paid sick days for the well-being of women and their children, trends in women’s employment such as occupational segregation and the gender wage gap, family economic and retirement security, and means to improve access to quality jobs for women and people of color. IWPR staff presentations from the summit can be found on IWPR’s website.

In one of the first panel discussions of the conference, IWPR Research Analyst Claudia Williams and Helen Luryi, Work and Family Policy Associate at the National Partnership for Women and Families, discussed the progress of state-level of paid sick days campaigns across the nation. Williams highlighted the importance of this legislation in reducing contagion, ultimately benefiting employee productivity and reducing health care costs, as found in IWPR’s cost-benefit analyses of paid sick days policies. IWPR has analyzed the impact of a nationwide paid sick days policy on health care costs and employment, as well as the cost-benefits of paid sick days legislation in states and cities considering such laws (including New York State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Denver, Colorado). Nationwide, access to paid sick days could save approximately $1 billion in health care costs according to a November 2011 report from IWPR.

In discussing other topics such as the gender wage gap, Social Security modernization, unemployment insurance, asset-building, and jobs in the “green” industry, IWPR researchers were joined by other experts such as Dr. Martha Burk, who spoke about her role in the push for paycheck fairness in New Mexico, and Web Phillips of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, who discussed proposed reforms to Social Security and ways in which they would help or harm women and their families.

In May, the NCPSSM, the NOW Foundation, and IWPR released a report that looked at the challenges facing older women and called for affordable changes to modernize Social Security to better support women’s economic security. Recommendations included improving survivor benefits, providing Social Security credits for caregivers, providing a more adequate benefit to those who have spent most of their working lives in low-wage employment, and restoring student benefits to children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending college/vocational school full time.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann receiving the NOW Woman of Vision award on Saturday, June 30, 2012. Photo courtesy NOW/NOW Foundation.

This year’s NOW conference, titled with the theme “Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women!” called upon the next generation of young advocacy leaders to speak up on issues important to women. But the conference was also an opportunity to look back on significant accomplishments and achievements. Several women’s leaders were honored for their work, including IWPR’s Dr. Heidi Hartmann, who received the NOW Woman of Vision Award for significant contributions towards improving the lives of women and girls in the United States. The award’s honorees have a strong commitment to women’s issues and have, over time, developed, communicated, and realized their vision by engaging with other leaders in women’s policy and advocacy. “I am deeply honored to be recognized by the National Organization for Women and to have the importance of economic issues for women be given visibility by this award,” said Dr. Hartmann.

IWPR thanks NOW for organizing a successful and engaging conference! We look forward to continuing to energize and inform conversations and dialogues on women’s issues as the year unfolds. Watch for upcoming IWPR research on women and caregiving, as well as on work/family supports, access to paid sick days, and access to quality employment for women and minorities. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed!

Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is the Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

An Introduction to Paid Time Off Banks

By Andrea Lindemann Gilliam

This blog was originally posted on the CLASP blog.

Many people have heard of Paid Time Off (PTO) banks, but the contours of such policies are often little understood, especially outside the human resources world. To shed light on PTO banks, CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) have released a report using Bureau of Labor Statistics data to explore what is known, and what needs more study, about PTO banks. This report is a first step in understanding PTO banks so that further questions about PTO banks and how they affect low-wage workers and their employers can be explored.

PTO banks are an alternative to traditional paid leave plans. PTO banks consolidate multiple types of leave (paid vacation, sick, and personal days) into a single bucket, which workers can draw upon for absences. About 19 percent of private industry employees in the U.S. have access to a PTO bank. PTO banks are more common for higher wage and full time workers and are more likely to be offered at larger businesses.

Many low-wage workers don’t have access to any paid leave at all; 41 percent of low-income working parents (with household incomes below twice the federal poverty level) do not receive paid sick leave, vacation days, personal days, or other forms of compensated leave. Low-wage workers are less likely to have access to any paid time off regardless of whether it is in a traditional form or as a PTO bank. While 51 percent of employees in the lowest wage quartile have access to paid vacation time, only 9 percent have access to a PTO bank. In comparison, 89 percent of employees in the highest wage quartile have paid vacation time and 28 percent have access to a PTO bank. This means that millions of workers face difficult decisions like whether to take a needed day off work to care for a sick child or visit the doctor and risk losing a day’s wages (or even their jobs).  Paid leave not only helps keep workers and communities healthy, but helps workers balance work and family obligations and stay productive.  Unfortunately, there is no federal standard requiring these types of paid leave.

In Washington, D.C. an employer with experience of PTO banks has good things to say about how paid leave has impacted his workers and their business. Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose, said in a recent BNA Human Resource Report article that ‘‘Some employers worry that too generous a leave policy will be abused by workers and will cost the company too much money in missed hours,” but that “employees have appreciated [their PTO policy] and it has not been abused.” Graham noted that he thinks the policy shows respect for the staff and makes economic sense. You can also see Graham explaining how Politics & Prose implemented the D.C. Sick and Safe Leave Act in a recent Spotlight on Poverty video. Spotlight on Poverty is a CLASP-managed initiative to highlight perspectives on issues affecting low-income families. In that same article, Stacey Bashara who helps run a web development firm in Chicago, discussed what PTO banks have meant for her employees. Bashara is also a supporter of the Illinois paid sick days campaign.  CLASP will continue to research and investigate PTO to identify pros and cons for low wage workers.

PTO banks are just one vehicle employers may use to give employees paid time off. While this paper is a start in understanding PTO banks, the real work is ensuring that workers at all wage levels have access to some form of paid time off so they can take care of their own health and that of their families without losing income or a job.

For more information, read Paid Time Off:  The Elements and Prevalence of Consolidated Leave Plans. IWPR has information available on Family Leave & Paid Sick days online.

Community College Partnerships Promote Education and Career Development

by Jane Henrici, Ph.D.

Adults with children can face complications if they want to pursue education or career development and, while community colleges often try to make things as convenient as possible for adults, college resources may not be enough. Partnerships between community colleges and other schools, local nonprofits, private businesses, and government agencies can make a difference. Many creative ways of pulling these partnerships together have been found in different parts of the United States. One of these, highlighted by IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI) in a new fact sheet, is Carreras en Salud: Carreras is a program of the nonprofit organization Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago, in partnership with Chicago’s Association House, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the city college of Wilbur Wright. This particular partnership helps low-income adults, most of them Latinas with children, successfully obtain education, training, and certification in health care fields. The affiliated organizations help student parents through different curricula and services: for example, parents taking bridge courses at Instituto del Progreso, such as English-as-a-Second-Language, receive child care. IWPR is also examining the need to improve work conditions and opportunities for in-home care workers who are immigrant women (please see our earlier blog post) and a program such as Carreras shows great promise for improving the quality of jobs in care work. Partnerships among community colleges that help student parents to complete education and career development pathways, whether in health care or other occupations, can help maximize existing resources through community coordination.

Jane Henrici, Ph.D., is a Study Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Life-Time Self-Sufficiency: Eight Things Every Young Woman Should Know

By Minjon Tholen and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

An Institute for Women’s Policy Research study analyzing men and women’s earnings over a 15-year span found that women in the prime working ages of 26 to 59 made only 38 percent of what prime working-age men made during the same time span. This major gap is due to occupational segregation, discrimination, caregiving obligations, and other factors, and creates a critical obstacle for women’s economic security throughout their working years and into retirement. Depending on a woman’s socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity, this gap may be even larger. Here are eight things all young women need to know now to be self-sufficient later.

1. Education

Education levels are strongly associated with earnings. The median weekly earnings of bachelor’s degree holders are 65.8 percent higher than those with only a high school degree. Women increasingly recognize the need to further their education and now outnumber men among those graduating with bachelor’s degrees, yet women still earn less than men at every level of educational attainment.  Postsecondary education is therefore an important tool for young women to increase economic security over their lifetime.

2. Reproductive Choice

Since educational attainment is a major determining factor of one’s income levels throughout life, and completing high school or college is difficult to combine with child-rearing responsibilities, a woman’s ability to control her own reproductive life is crucial for her economic security. If you are in school and have children, familiarize yourself with and use the student parent support services available in your school and/or community, and advocate for more such services.

3. Occupational Segregation

Many women work in occupations that are traditionally female-dominated and are undervalued and underpaid compared to male-dominated occupations. As of the 1990s, after decades during which occupations increasingly became more ‘mixed’, further gender integration stalled. There are now proportionately fewer women in Information Technology occupations, which are generally well-paid, than there were 15 years ago. As a young woman choosing a career, explore non-traditional career options and keep in mind the implications your career choice may have for your ability to support yourself into the future.

4. Wage Gap

Women also earn less than men within nearly every occupation, indicating that occupational segregation is only part of the story. The gender wage gap begins early (with young women starting off at lower salaries than young men with comparable qualifications in comparable positions), widens over time, and can be larger or smaller depending on one’s race/ethnicity.  Part of the problem may be that young women are less likely than young men to negotiate for a higher starting salary or a raise.  Also, many employers work to keep pay information confidential; nearly half of all workers say they are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their co-workers. Knowledge is power. So, talk to your co-workers, do research on average pay in your industry, and negotiate your salary. Know what you’re worth and ask for it.

5. Discrimination and Harassment

Research indicates that a significant portion of the wage gap within occupations cannot be fully explained by known factors—such as education or experience—suggesting that gender discrimination is still a significant barrier to women’s economic progress. Everyone has a right to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment based on gender or race/ethnicity. Know your rights under the law, familiarize yourself with the policies and protections at your workplace, and speak up when you feel these rights are violated.

6. Work/life balance

Although the majority of women are active in the workforce, they remain the primary caregivers to children and other dependents. Balancing work and personal life can be a struggle for many women and taking time out of work can have a long-term impact on your earnings and job security. Find out whether your employer offers flexible work arrangements and is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, in order to know your rights and responsibilities when balancing your work life and personal life.

7. Social Security

Compared to men, women rely on Social Security for a longer period of time (because they live longer) and depend on Social Security for a greater share of their income.  Yet, women receive, on average, significantly lower Social Security benefits due to a lifetime of lower wages and periods of decreased employment due to caregiving responsibilities for children, parents, or others. As a young woman, be aware that there is strong likelihood that you will live alone for at least part of your retirement. Educate yourself on how to maximize your Social Security benefits, strive towards ensuring other sources of income in retirement, and work to protect this program which is so vital to so many women and men.

8. Assets, Savings, and Pension Plans

Women face specific barriers to acquiring assets, building up savings, and investing in a pension plan. Women’s lifelong lower earnings due to occupational segregation, the wage gap, and caregiving responsibilities make it difficult to accumulate assets and savings. Women are also significantly less likely than men to have access to and participate in employer-sponsored retirement or pension plans. On top of these factors, women who do receive income from their own pensions receive on average less than half as much as men. To offset reliance on Social Security, start thinking about other ways to supplement your income in retirement early in your life and career.

Be cognizant of how gender inequality impacts your ability to be economically secure.  These inequalities are reflected in policies, institutions, and attitudes that affect all of us on a daily basis.  Know you have the ability to change this by educating yourself and others, and advocating for women-friendly policies. For in-depth studies on the issues described above and many others, visit the Institute for Women’s Policy Research research portal.

Minjon Tholen and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson are Research Interns at 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.

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