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Low-Income Workers and Families

Paycheck Fairness, Part II — Raise the Minimum Wage!

Yesterday, a majority of the Senate voted to proceed to debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would strengthen current laws against wage discrimination and make it easier for women to ensure that their employers are paying them fairly. A vote on the merits of this bill is long overdue, and Senate passage would be a critically important step forward.

But the Paycheck Fairness Act is not the only bill that could help close the gap between women’s and men’s earnings — which hasn’t budged in a decade, as women working full time, year round are still typically paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. One reason for this persistent wage gap is that women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs: for starters, they make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. Another bill, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, would boost pay for these workers by gradually raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, increasing the tipped minimum cash wage from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the minimum wage, and indexing these wages to keep up with inflation.  Read more »

Closing the Wage Gap at Gap

Equal pay is achievable – just ask Gap Inc. Earlier this week the company announced that that it is paying men and women equally for work on the same jobs. It worked with a consulting firm to evaluate its pay practices and confirm pay parity between the sexes. The company also revealed that it is ahead of the curve in terms of its numbers of women in leadership positions.

Gap’s success in maintaining equal pay is all the more striking when you consider that women working in the retail sector as a whole experienced a 32 cent wage gap compared to their male counterparts in 2011. This gap for the retail sector is much larger than the overall wage gap between men and women. Read more »

Instability at Work Wreaks Havoc on Moms and Children

Have you ever heard of “clopening?” It’s when a worker has to close up the shop, store, or restaurant where they work late at night and then report for an early-morning shift just a few hours later. Stressful scheduling like clopening frequently occurs when employers use scheduling software designed to maximize profits—often at the expense of working mothers and their children. This week, the New York Times featured a front-page profile of Jannette Navarro, a mom who works as a barista at a Starbucks in New York City. Jannette’s story shows how the scheduling practices of major chains are unsustainable for moms who need child care, as well as highly detrimental to their children, who bear the brunt of a lack of stability.

The challenges for Jannette Navarro and many women like her begin with the scheduling software many companies use to determine employees’ shifts based on how much business they anticipate. This software enables companies to increase their profits by reducing labor costs, but it works, as the New York Times calls it, by “redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families.” Jannette typically received her always-changing schedule just three days in advance, leaving very little time to arrange child care for her 4-year-old son, Gavin. While Gavin could attend a preschool program during the day, shifts early in the morning or later in the evening forced Jannette to scramble to get a friend or relative to take care of him—and Gavin’s child center is not open on weekends. Furthermore, Jannette worried about losing access to child care because of her work schedule, since Gavin’s eligibility depended on her working a minimum number of hours, and she was always at risk of not getting enough. Read more »

Closing the Literacy Gap Through Early Learning

As summer winds down this month, children across America are getting their backpacks, pencils, and books ready to go back to school. While a new school year means a new classroom, new teacher, and new lessons to learn for most children, some will be left behind, held back a year because they have difficulty reading. The New York Times reported Monday that more and more states are requiring schools to hold back third graders who do not read on grade level. Yet when children are forced to repeat a grade, it may already be too late—several studies have found that students who have to repeat a grade are more likely to drop out of high school. A more effective way to improve children’s literacy is by ensuring children have high-quality early learning opportunities that give them a strong start even before entering kindergarten.

Low-income children are particularly likely to lag in their reading skills. Children in economically disadvantaged families may lack opportunities to develop their language skills at home.  They tend to be read to less regularly, have fewer books in their homes, and hear fewer words in their early years.  In addition, they often are unable to participate in high-quality early learning programs, because such programs are too costly for their parents, unavailable in their neighborhoods, or inaccessible due to parents’ challenging work schedules, lack of transportation, or other barriers. Read more »

Workers Are Making Their Voices Heard in Support of The Schedules That Work Act!

Yesterday, Representatives Miller and DeLauro and Senators Harkin and Warren introduced the Schedules That Work Act. This groundbreaking legislation would give all Americans a say in when they work and curb the most abusive scheduling practices in certain low-wage jobs. At a congressional briefing, workers from the restaurant, retail and fast food industries explained to a standing room only crowd what it’s like to have no clue what your schedule will be from one day to the next, and why we need the Schedules That Work Act.

Schedules That Work

Schedules That Work Act Press Conference –7.22.14. From Left to Right: Sandy Kossangba (ROC), Representative Rosa DeLauro, Melody Pabon (RAP), Sherry Hamilton-Elder (RWDSU), Tiffany Beroid (OW), Liz Watson (NWLC), Representative George Miller, and Mary Coleman (Wisconsin Jobs NOW).

Here’s what they said: Read more »

10 Comments That Make It Clear: Workers Need Schedules That Work

Imagine getting to work for your scheduled shift after taking an hour-long bus commute only to be told to go home without clocking in because there were enough employees there already. Seems ridiculous, right? But that was Mary Coleman’s reality when she arrived at work at a Popeye’s in Milwaukee.

Her story was published last Wednesday in a New York Times article on the unpredictable workplace hours and short notice scheduling that are a reality for many workers. Readers had a lot to say about the issue – it garnered more than 440 responses in the comment section.

Many readers were shocked and angry about the unfair treatment that Mary and other workers faced, and others had personal stories about unpredictable scheduling in their own workplaces.

Here are 10 of our favorite comments from the NYT article from readers who agree that fair hours and predictable scheduling are rights that should be given to all workers. Read more »

Empowerment in the Workplace is Crucial for Workers and Their Families

As witness Heidi Shierholz, economist at the Economic Policy Institute, testified at a U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee hearing this week on “Empowerment in the Workplace,” “An empowered workforce is one that shares fairly in the fruits of its labor.” Unfortunately, government policies have led to trends of inequality over the past decades. 

This is in part because policy has failed to respond to changing realities of the workforce, as Congressman John Delaney stressed in an opening statement. While workplaces are often structured around an outdated model of a two parent household with one breadwinner and one parent home to take care of family responsibilities, this model no longer works for families in the United States. Today, women comprise nearly fifty percent [PDF] of the workforce, and compared with 30 years ago, mothers of young children are almost twice as likely [PDF] to be employed. Additionally, men today report spending more time with their children. More than ever before, workers must balance work duties with meeting the basic needs of their families. Read more »

Parents in Low-Wage Jobs Share Their Struggles Finding Child Care and Making Ends Meet

Women make up 76 percent of workers in the 10 largest low-wage occupations and they shoulder the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities for children. Yet working parents in low-wage jobs – most of whom are women – face significant obstacles to securing child care that is stable, high-quality, and affordable. The Ms. Foundation is supporting an effort by six worker justice organizations – Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Garment Worker Center, the Retail Action Project and Center for Frontline Retail, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United – and the National Women’s Law Center to examine the working conditions in low-wage jobs that make it so difficult to arrange child care.

Together, we’re releasing a preliminary report with survey and focus group findings from participatory research conducted by the worker justice organizations that illuminate these challenges – along with preliminary ideas about where we go from here. Read the report here. Read more »

Debunking the Myth: Minimum Wage Workers May Not Be Who You Think

I am here to make a confession: I’ve been leading you astray. I didn’t mean to, it was totally unintentional, and we (probably) haven’t even met. Still, my bad.

If you think of the average low-wage worker, you probably think of me. Young, working part-time to help pay for school and gas, plans to change jobs soon. Many people think low-wage jobs are held by teens and young adults who hope to earn a bit of extra pocket money on nights and weekends. And since the age of 15, that has been me. I have worked part-time for that very pocket money in order to subsidize my incredible coffee addiction, buy the newest pair of shoes, and pay for movies and entertainment.

However, the reality of the situation is that minimum wage jobs in America are disproportionally held by adults. Most work full-time. And many have children and families to support. Read more »

Early Learning: A Key Issue for Working Families

Parents, teachers, and experts agree—high-quality early childhood education is a must for giving our young children the strong start they need to succeed in school, in work, and in life. And by helping children succeed, we help the country prosper. Early education should be a top priority at the upcoming White House Summit on Working Families not only because it benefits today’s workforce and working families, but because it will benefit our nation’s future workforce and working families.

Numerous studies have revealed that low-income children who attend high-quality preschool have significantly better educational outcomes through high school and college and are more likely to get a job and earn more income later in life than their peers who did not receive the same education early in life. At-risk children who do not attend preschool are more likely to be placed in special education, become a teen parent, drop out of high school, and become involved in crime. The benefits of preschool far exceed the initial costs. Clearly, it is to everyone’s advantage that all children—particularly children from low-income and vulnerable families—have access to high-quality early learning. Read more »