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On Heartbreak and Butter Cake: A Dispatch from St. Louis

Genius organizer Ai-Jen Poo often talks about how home care workers and other domestic workers are the invisible workforce – performing life-sustaining work for low wages and no benefits day in and day out. But this week in St. Louis at the Home Care Workers Rising conference home care workers made their dreams and their struggles highly visible. They came together from across the country to hammer out plans for a better future for themselves, their children, and the consumers for whom they provide care. Read more »

Missouri State Representative Thinks a Court Case is the Best Way to Keep his Daughters from Using Birth Control

Earlier this week we got some more insight into the twisted reasoning that some people use to justify attempts to limit women’s access to essential health care. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday in the case Wieland v. Sebelius. The plaintiff, Paul Wieland, would have us believe that this is just like the other cases that have been filed against the rule that insurance plans cover the full range of birth control methods. Except there’s a big difference: Wieland is not the owner of a corporation nor is he representing a religiously affiliated organization. This means that the birth control coverage requirement doesn’t even apply to him. He does not have to do anything differently than he did before the ACA expanded access to contraceptives for millions of women (and that is why the district court dismissed his case). But that’s not stopping Wieland. Read more »

Reminding Ourselves What Reproductive Justice Is: Police Violence and the Death of Michael Brown

Twenty years ago a group of women of color activists developed the reproductive justice framework, placing reproductive health issues in the larger human rights context. Read more »

More States and Localities Move to Raise the Minimum Wage as President Calls for a Nationwide Increase

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the holiday shopping season is officially in full swing. But while some of us retreat to the internet to avoid frenzied shoppers at the mall, the season is far more stressful for many of the workers restocking store shelves and serving meals in the food court (and not just because they have to deal with swarms of cranky customers). For millions of employees in retail, fast food, and other industries that pay poverty-level wages, the end of the year means hard work and higher expenses – without any chance of a holiday bonus.

As Paul Krugman points out in the New York Times this week, the inflation-adjusted wages of nonsupervisory workers in retail have fallen almost 30 percent over the past four decades. That drop parallels the declining value of the federal minimum wage, which is just $7.25 per hour today; if it had kept up with inflation since reaching its peak in 1968, it would be over $10.70 per hour by now. In another recent piece for the New York Times, Professor Arindrajit Dube notes that this “erosion of the minimum wage has been an important contributor to wage inequality, especially for women” (who make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the U.S.); in fact, “the evidence suggests that around half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the wage distribution since 1979 was a result of falling real minimum wages.”

Fortunately, there’s movement on the minimum wage in a number of states and localities – and even some encouraging signs nationally. Today, in a major speech on economic mobility, President Obama renewed his call to raise the minimum wage. Recognizing the link between the low minimum wage and widening economic inequality, he described an increase as a key piece of an agenda to restore opportunity for all. Read more »

MO Attorney General Won’t Appeal Ruling Striking Down an Exemption to the Contraceptive Coverage Requirement

Score one for sanity! Last Thursday, the Missouri Attorney General announced that he will not appeal a federal court ruling that struck down a Missouri law that would have required insurance issuers to issue polices without contraceptive coverage to employers who claim that birth control violates their “moral, ethical or religious beliefs.”

The law directly conflicted with the federal health care law’s contraceptive coverage requirement, which requires all new health insurance plans to cover contraceptives with no co-pay. In his announcement, the Attorney General aptly stated, “the attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness” and “cannot be supported by case law or sound policy.” Read more »

27 Governors Highlight Early Care and Education in State of the State Addresses

Everyone’s ears perked up when President Obama announced his new early childhood education plan at the State of the Union last month. And many noticed when Jon Stewart started talked prekindergarten and the President’s plan on the Daily Show. But the focus on early care and education isn't just happening at the national level: 27 governors across the country — from left, right, and center — signaled that early childhood was a priority for them in their State of the State addresses.

Like the President, these governors (and the Mayor of Washington, D.C.) recognize that investing in children in their earliest years is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Early care and education helps nurture young children and prepares them for future educational and career success, provides crucial support for parents, and strengthens our nation's economy.

A number of governors called for significant new investments in early care and education to expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said he wanted to "ensure that every child in Massachusetts has access to high-quality early education." Read more »

Expanding Early Education in Minnesota and Missouri, Cutting Child Care in Kentucky

Minnesota and Missouri have joined Massachusetts in proposing new state investments in early childhood education and care. However, just as we were cheering those states, Kentucky announced damaging cuts to its child care assistance program, reminding us yet again that these programs and the low-income women and children they support are in a fragile position.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has proposed to provide $20 million over the 2014-2015 biennium to increase rates for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance. He has also proposed (PDF) to provide $44 million to expand scholarships to enable low-income families to purchase high-quality early care and education for their children. Read more »

Minimum Wage Update: Bad News in Connecticut, But Progress Still Possible

Connecticut’s legislative session ended last night at midnight. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take up the minimum wage bill that passed the House last month, so many workers struggling to get by on $8.25 an hour will have to wait until at least 2013 to get a raise. (The Senate did act at the last minute to approve a bill permitting the keeping of reindeer year-round, though, so to any Connecticut readers who always wished for Rudolph as a pet, you’re in luck!)  

But all is not lost. As I mentioned earlier this week, bills to raise the state minimum wage are still pending in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, and an increase looks likely to be on Missouri’s ballot in November.

And in a very exciting development at the federal level today, Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Bruce Braley (D-IA) just introduced the Rebuild America Act in the House. Like its companion bill introduced by Senator Harkin, the bill would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour over three years and then index it for inflation, and would also gradually raise the minimum cash wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the minimum wage. Read more »

States Taking the Lead to Raise the Minimum Wage – But Time Running Out in Connecticut

I hope you saw the new infographic we posted this morning. I think it makes a pretty clear case for raising the minimum wage! Fortunately, in recent months, quite a few states have been getting the message: legislatures in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are all considering bills to increase the state minimum wage, including the minimum wage for tipped workers. And in Missouri, state advocates just delivered 175,000 signatures in support of a voter initiative that would get a minimum wage increase on the ballot in November.

As of today, the bill in Connecticut (H.B. 5291) – which passed the state House of Representatives last month – is closest to being law. At $8.25 per hour, Connecticut’s minimum wage is higher than the federal level ($7.25 per hour), but still leaves a mother with two kids more than $1,000 below the poverty line if she works full time. H.B. 5291 would raise the state minimum wage to $8.75 per hour over two years and raise the minimum cash wage for tipped workers from $5.69 to $6.04 per hour by 2015. Read more »