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President Obama's New Executive Order - One Step Closer to Equal Pay

Posted by Beccah Golubock Watson, Fellow | Posted on: January 29, 2014 at 12:38 pm

President Obama’s announcement that he will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for workers on new federal government contracts for services is welcome news.  This is an important step and builds momentum toward a national increase – which is particularly needed for women, who are nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and women of color, who are nearly four out of every ten female minimum wage workers. President Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of years of advocacy to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour. Congress has raised the minimum wage only three times in the past 30 years.

Although it’s hard to imagine, many Americans who work on federal contracts are paid very low wages. One survey of federal-contract employees found that 74 percent earn less than $10 an hour, one in five depend on Medicaid for their healthcare [PDF], and 14 percent rely on food stamps. Once the minimum wage is in effect for employees on new federal services contracts, there are some families that will immediately be pulled out of poverty, and many others that will see a tangible improvement in their economic well-being. Raising pay for these workers is an important step toward raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for all workers, which would lift millions more out of poverty and – because women are the majority of workers who would benefit – would help close the wage gap.

This great news from the White House also highlights the critical steps the President can take on his own to lift American families out of poverty and close the wage gap. Here’s what President Obama could do next to ensure that women earn their fair share:

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The President - And the American People - Call for a Higher Minimum Wage

Posted by Julie Vogtman, Senior Counsel | Posted on: January 29, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Did you catch the President’s State of the Union address last night?  I’m glad I did. He set forth an ambitious but pragmatic agenda to reverse the trends of widening economic inequality and stalling wage growth and upward mobility. Many of the solutions he proposed – like expanding access to affordable, quality pre-K and promoting more family-friendly workplaces – would particularly benefit women. The same is true of another policy for which the President advocated forcefully: raising the minimum wage.

As the President observed, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour “is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan [took office].” Full-time minimum wage earnings amount to just $14,500 in a year, leaving a mother with two children thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Today’s low minimum wage especially harms women and their families, since women are nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers – and about two-thirds of tipped workers like restaurant servers, for whom the federal minimum cash wage has been frozen at just $2.13 an hour for 23 years.

Last night, President Obama committed to using his executive authority to advance the minimum wage by issuing an order requiring that workers on new federal services contracts be paid at least $10.10 an hour, “because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.” And he called on business leaders and state and local governments to do what they can to raise wages, too. But he also recognized that only an act of Congress can ensure that the minimum wage is raised for all workers across the country.

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A Strong Start: Act on PreK

Posted by Helen Blank, Director of Child Care and Early Learning | Posted on: January 29, 2014 at 10:36 am

Last night in his State of the Union Address, the President recommitted to ensuring that all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds have access to a high-quality prekindergarten experience. This is an important goal to keep on the front burner. And it is one that is widely shared. 

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans believe that ensuring all children have access to preschool education is an absolute priority this year, according to a new poll [PDF]. These poll results are consistent with four earlier polls showing that an overwhelming majority of the American public agree that better early childhood education is very important as is public funding to provide children with access to these programs. This support held among both parents and non-parents, and both Democrats and Republicans. 

High-quality early education is also supported by a growing number of state and local elected officials from both parties. Already this year, New York City Mayor De Blasio and New York Governor Cuomo have offered plans to expand prekindergarten. California's Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is heading a legislative effort to extend preschool to all of the state's four-year-olds. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is championing a new state investment in preschool. Other governors have made the expansion of preschool a focus of their state agendas as well. 

Support for preschool is bolstered by research showing that high-quality preschool is one of the key strategies to help close the achievement gap and reduce inequality in our country.

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The Coverage Gap Poses Risks to Low Income Women's Health

Posted by | Posted on: January 27, 2014 at 02:50 pm

Did you know that in the last 12 months nearly 60 percent of low-income uninsured women went without needed care because of cost? Or that in 2012 only 46 percent of low-income uninsured women received their recommended mammograms? What if we told you that states could take action to solve this problem today? And the federal government would start out paying for the full cost of this policy, and ultimately cover 90 percent of the bill?

You might be surprised, but this option is immediately available to all states. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states may expand coverage through their Medicaid programs, providing health insurance to millions of low-income Americans. Yet twenty-five states have not done this, leaving over three million women in a coverage gap. This gap results from states’ failure to expand coverage and applies to individuals with incomes below the poverty level (approximately $11,500 for an individual) who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid. Women with income above poverty are eligible for subsidies for private health insurance available through their state Marketplace.

A new report from the National Women’s Law Center illustrates the risk the coverage gap poses to low-income women’s health. More specifically, the report shows that women in the coverage gap also experience a health care gap. In general, low-income women without health insurance are significantly less likely to access basic health care services on a regular basis and are less likely to use important preventive services than women who have similarly low incomes but who are covered by public or private health insurance.

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Gender Wage Gap for Union Members Is Half the Size of Non-Union Workers' Wage Gap

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data on union membership for 2013. The data show women’s union membership held steady in 2013 after dropping sharply the year before – and that’s a relief for women seeking better wages and equal pay.

NWLC analysis reveals that the wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among non-union workers and female union members earn over $200 per week more than women who are not represented by unions—an increase that represents a larger union premium than men receive.

This release is especially timely. Earlier this week the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that challenges the right of low-wage workers, overwhelmingly women, who provide home care services under Illinois’ Medicaid program—and potentially the right of all public employees—to be represented by unions. Today’s data make it clear that this case has high stakes for working women and men.

Here are all the details:

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1.6 Million and Counting: Unemployed Workers Continue to Lose Benefits as Congress Stalls on Extension

Posted by Emily Wales, Fellow | Posted on: January 24, 2014 at 01:21 pm

When the expiration of federal emergency unemployment insurance (UI) started making front-page news in December, the number of people set to run out of benefits immediately was astounding: 1.3 million people.

Today – just a few weeks into the New Year – we’re at 1.6 million. And that number is only going to grow unless Congress acts.

We’ve been telling you just how critical these benefits are to Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. While the economy struggles to recover, jobs remain hard to come by – currently, job seekers outnumber job openings by almost three to one. Particularly hard hit are the nearly 3.9 million Americans who are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been searching for work for more than six months. The rate of long-term unemployment remains at historically high levels, and while workers previously were able to rely on federal unemployment benefits when their state benefits ended, the federal program’s December expiration has left many workers out in the cold.

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Obama to Sexual Assault Survivors: "I've Got Your Back"

Posted by Shayne Larkin, Intern | Posted on: January 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm

It pains me that there is no shortage of examples suggesting a dire need for reform in how sexual assault survivors are treated on college campuses. Take for instance Amherst’s response to a sexual assault case, whose policy ‘treats alleged rapists better than laptop thieves,’ or the survivor of assault who faced retaliation for filing a federal complaint against the University of North Carolina.

So when I heard that Obama announced a new plan to combat this depressing trend, all I could think was ‘Hallelujah!!!’

Yesterday, President Obama announced the creation of a task force to protect students from sexual assault, which he described as “an epidemic,” particularly on college campuses. This new initiative – a collaboration between the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President – will facilitate ‘information sharing among key federal agencies’ about best practices to prevent sexual assault and provide support for survivors.

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Supreme Court Case About Unionizing Home Care Workers Raises High Stakes

Posted by Emily Wales, Fellow | Posted on: January 23, 2014 at 10:34 am

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t do snow days, apparently. While much of D.C. hunkered down Tuesday for our latest winter storm, the Court went on as usual, hearing oral arguments in a case that could upset years of established labor law. It could leave low-wage workers, overwhelmingly women, who provide home health care services under Illinois’ Medicaid program—and potentially other public employees—without a voice at the negotiating table. Knowing how high the stakes are, I ventured out to listen.

The case, Harris v. Quinn, addresses key questions about the unionizing of in-home care providers paid by the state of Illinois through two Medicaid programs. Here is a boiled-down version of the main issues: First, if a majority of care providers vote in favor of an exclusive bargaining representative (a union), can the state recognize and negotiate with that union? Second, can the providers who voted against unionization be required to pay a “fair share fee,” a payment that goes to cover the administrative costs of bargaining the contract that also benefits them?

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