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Good News for Black Girls and Women in NYC: Mayor de Blasio Takes First Steps to End Stop-and-Frisk

Last Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City announced that the City’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, in its current incarnation, will soon be a thing of the past. This is excellent news: the policy, which allowed police officers to detain, question, and frisk pedestrians on the street, was declared unconstitutional by federal district court last year in light of its disproportionate impact on people of color.

In his announcement, Mayor de Blasio noted that the policy “has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.” It has also unfairly targeted women in the same demographic. Given the potentially invasive nature of a police search and pat-down, many women who were stopped likened the experience to sexual harassment. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for not only taking the steps necessary to end Stop-and-Frisk, but also for acknowledging the program’s problematic racial elements. Still, it is important that women and girls of color are not erased when we talk about police misconduct and discipline. Read more »

What Took So Long?

I was surprised to learn that New York City just elected their first African American woman to a citywide office. I thought, New York City? What took so long?

Letitia James was sworn in last week as NYC’s Public Advocate. She is abundantly qualified – she has a law degree from Howard University, worked as a public defender in her first job out of law school, and served for 10 years on New York City’s Council. Ms. James says in this article that she “just want[s] to inspire others”. For me, that is even more impressive than all the degrees and accolades she has earned.

Often times athletes, actors, and musicians — people who have a lot of fame and make a lot more money than most of us — are thrown into role model-dom and don’t want it, or can't handle it. I am an aunt to many young girls – my nieces range in age from 7 months old to 20 something – and I don’t want just anyone setting an example for them. So I love that Letitia James’ story might show my nieces and all Black girls out there what success can look like.The problem is that most often they don’t see examples like hers – of women and girls who look like them breaking barriers and making change in the world - so how will they know that they’re capable of it too? And how will Black boys and men learn to love and respect their female counterparts if many of the positive images they see exclude people who look like their sisters, mothers, and grandmothers? Read more »

Why Today’s House Vote Could Mean Higher Insurance Premiums

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is voting to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual responsibility provision. Coincidentally, this is happening on the same day that the New York Times is reporting that New York’s insurance rates for 2014 are AT LEAST 50% lower than current rates. An individual living in New York City who currently pays $1000 a month for health insurance will see their rate decrease to just $308 a month. And that’s even BEFORE factoring in new federal subsidies that will help individuals cover a portion of their premium costs.

It’s pretty obvious that lower rates are good news for all New Yorkers, particularly women who have a harder time affording health care and are more likely than men to avoid needed health care services because of cost, but this news should also convince the House to vote down the effort to delay the individual responsibility provision. Read more »

When Will the Minimum Wage Go Up?

It's a fitting question to ask this week, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the landmark law that established the first federal minimum wage. And it's a particularly important question for women, who make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationwide.

The answer, though, depends a lot on where you live. A majority of states follow the federal minimum wage, which is not scheduled to rise even though it has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for almost four years — and for tipped workers in states that follow the federal standard, the minimum cash wage has been frozen at a shockingly low $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. But in states like Washington, Colorado, Ohio, and Vermont, the minimum wage will automatically rise in January 2014 to keep up with inflation, and minimum wage increases recently enacted in New YorkConnecticut, and Rhode Island will also begin to take effect in 2014. 

To make it easy for you to find out what’s happening with the minimum wage in your state, the National Women's Law Center just released this handy interactive map

Find out how the low minimum wage affects women in your state

You can click on any state to see its minimum wage and tipped minimum wage, along with the share of minimum wage workers who are women, the next scheduled increase in the minimum wage, and any recent action on the minimum wage in the state legislature.  Read more »

President Obama Makes Historic Nominations

Yesterday, Srikanth Srinivasan became the first South Asian judge confirmed to a federal court of appeals. In addition, President Obama has recently made some groundbreaking nominations. Last week, after Shelly Dick was the first woman confirmed to the Middle District of Louisiana, President Obama nominated Carolyn McHugh, who would be the first woman from Utah to sit on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Elizabeth Wolford, who would be the first woman to sit on the Western District of New York, Pamela Reeves, who would be the first women to sit on the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Debra Brown, nominated to the Northern District of Mississippi, who would be the first African-American woman to serve as a federal judge in Mississippi. Yesterday as well, President Obama nominated Landya B. McCafferty, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, and Susan P. Watters, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in Montana.  Read more »

New York Raises Its Minimum Wage (For a Price) and the Fight Continues in Other States

There’s a lot to report on the minimum wage today, but I’ll start with the biggest news: the New York legislature has approved the state’s 2013-2014 budget, which includes a minimum wage increase. Specifically, the minimum wage will rise from $7.25 to $8.00 per hour on December 31, 2013, to $8.75 one year later, and $9.00 on December 31, 2015.

This is good news for minimum wage workers in New York, nearly two-thirds of whom are women. But the phased-in minimum wage increase in the budget is weaker than the increase that the state Assembly passed just a few weeks ago, which would have raised New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour in one step in January 2014, then indexed the wage annually to keep up with inflation. The budget also drops a provision in the Assembly-passed bill that would have raised the minimum cash wage for tipped food service workers from $5.00 to $6.21 per hour, but it does provide a path to an increase for these workers by authorizing the labor commissioner to have a wage board examine the adequacy of New York’s tipped minimum wage, then issue an order to raise the wage. Read more »

Getting Closer to a Better Minimum Wage in Hawaii, New Mexico and New York

Momentum just keeps building towards a higher minimum wage. I reported last week that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which now has at least 25 co-sponsors in the Senate and 131 in the House. That’s a strong show of support – but we know the bill will still face opposition from some in Congress. So it’s heartening to see that a number of states aren’t waiting for the federal government to act to raise wages for their lowest-paid workers.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve noted proposed minimum wage increases in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. And just in the past couple of weeks, legislatures in several of these states have taken steps to move those proposals forward. This movement is especially good news for women, who make up the majority of minimum wage workers across the country and in most states. Read more »

Nearly 846,000 Women in New York Would Get a Raise Under Gov. Cuomo's Minimum Wage Proposal

News on the minimum wage just keeps coming this week, and today’s update is from New York. Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo released his budget for 2013-14, which proposes raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 per hour and raising the minimum cash wage for tipped food service workers from $5.00 to $6.03 per hour, effective July 1, 2013. And now a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) shows that the majority of New York workers who would get a raise under Governor Cuomo’s proposal are women — 845,700 women to be exact.

Today, minimum wage workers in New York earn just $14,500 per year — more than $3,600 below the poverty line for a mom with two kids, and far less than a family needs to be economically secure in a state with a notoriously high cost of living. If Governor Cuomo’s proposal becomes law, women earning the minimum wage would see their annual pay rise by $3,000. Tipped food service workers like restaurant servers — who are about 70 percent women nationwide — could get an extra $2,060 per year. Read more »

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts Steps Up for Children and Families

Hats off to Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who announced an impressive plan to invest in strengthening the state’s education system, including not only the K-12 and higher education systems, but early education as well. The Governor recommends that $350 million be targeted over four years to expand and improve the state’s early education and care system. This investment would eliminate the state’s waiting list of nearly 30,000 children who need but cannot currently access child care assistance, expand the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) to help early educators and providers offer higher-quality experiences to children and families, increase educational programs and supports for parents and family members, and strengthen efforts to provide comprehensive support to children and families. In addition, new school finance funding would be used to incentivize school districts to offer prekindergarten for four-year-olds.

In order to raise the revenue necessary to support these fundamental education initiatives, Governor Patrick, in his state of the state address, proposed to increase the state income tax by one percent, to 6.25 percent. He also proposed to double personal exemptions and eliminate certain itemized deductions in an attempt to distribute the burden of the tax increase based on ability to pay.        Read more »

Minimum Wage Increase Advances in New Jersey

I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty good today — I’m just hours away from starting a long holiday weekend, and I get to report more happy news on the minimum wage! Today’s update comes from New Jersey, where the General Assembly just passed a bill (A-2162) that would raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour and index the wage to keep pace with inflation. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that over half a million workers — the majority of them women — will get a raise if A-2162 is enacted.

That raise is sorely needed: full-time minimum wage earnings of $14,500 a year leave a mom with two children thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line in a state with one of the highest costs of living in the country. Raising New Jersey’s minimum wage to $8.50 per hour would mean an extra $2,500 per year, which could make a real difference for women and families struggling to make ends meet. And indexing the wage for inflation would help ensure that the buying power of the minimum wage does not erode as it has over the past decades; indeed, if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1960s, it would be more than $10.50 per hour today.

Low-wage workers and their families are not the only ones who would benefit from a minimum wage increase – New Jersey’s economy would get a boost, too. More money in workers’ pockets means more dollars flowing into local businesses, and that means more jobs: according to EPI, raising the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour would generate over $277 million in economic activity in New Jersey, creating close to 2,500 jobs. Read more »