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A lack of child care is keeping women on unemployment rolls

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Women’s participation in the workforce — which is closely tied to access to child care — has dropped at a faster clip than men’s since the early spring.

A lack of safe and affordable child care amid the coronavirus pandemic is keeping many working parents from returning to the office as more companies call employees back to their jobs — threatening to extend the economic crisis and erode decades of gains for women in the workplace.

The U.S. is experiencing its highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression, even as businesses begin to reopen. More than 20 million American workers are receiving jobless benefits. Another 1.48 million applied for jobless aid last week, the Department of Labor said Thursday.

The burden is disproportionately falling on women, who are more likely to have been laid off, to have left the labor market or to be considering quitting their jobs so they can manage family responsibilities, Labor Department data, academic research and surveys show.

And the problem is on track to only get worse: Continued shutdowns and the need to implement costly safety and social distancing measures are threatening to run so many child care providers out of business that the country could permanently lose an estimated half of its capacity. Between February and April of this year, more than 1 in 3 jobs in child day care services had been erasedbefore the industry began to recover slightly in May, according to Labor Department data.

Left unaddressed, the issue will affect tens of millions of Americans. More than 325,000 child care workers have already lost their jobs since February. And more than 33 million American families have children under the age of 18. In nearly two-thirds of married-couple families with kids, both parents were working as of last year.

President Donald Trump compounded the crisis when he issued an executive order on Monday restricting certain types of foreign worker visas, including J visas used by au pairs, teachers and camp counselors.

Now, economists and industry experts are calling on Congress to funnel billions of dollars into child care, arguing that doing so would have the double-barreled benefit of providing jobs for workers in the industry while allowing working parents to return to the office. That in turn, they say, would leave everyone with more income to spend in their communities — thus accelerating the recovery.

“If you don’t fund this one, many other industries are going to pay a hidden price,” said Art Rolnick, the former director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an expert on child development and social policy.

“You won’t find a better stimulant than this industry,” he added. “That money will get spent, and it will get multiplied in the neighborhood.”

In March, as the pandemic was just getting under way, the unemployment rate for both adult men and women was 4 percent. Two months later, that rate jumped up by 7.6 percentage points for men, but nearly 10 percentage points for women.

Women’s participation in the workforce — which is closely tied to access to child care — has also dropped at a faster clip than men’s since the early spring. While 61 percent of men over the age of 20 were employed in May, less than half of women were, the data show.

“We still live in a world where women shoulder more of the responsibilities for care work,” said Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Labor Department. “Not getting this stuff in place will mean women will be the ones who are more likely to have to stay home.”

Within the child care industry, too, a staggering 93 percent of jobs are held by women, according to Labor Department data, and 45.3 percent are Black, Asian or Latino. Making sure the sector stays afloat — or even strengthens — could have an outsized impact on the economic well-being of those demographics.

“It’ll be crucial that that investment is made so that these are actually decent jobs for the people who are holding them,” said Shierholz, now policy director at the Economic Policy Institute.

More than 100 economists wrote an open letter to Congress this week highlighting the need for at least $50 billion in aid for the child care industry, calling it “an essential precondition for a successful economic recovery.” Congressional Democrats have been pushing the same idea since late May, when Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Child Care Is Essential Act.

“This is a crisis,” DeLauro said. “This is not unlike a manufacturing crisis, an airline crisis, all of the other things that are out there.”

“If you cannot make families feel that their kids are going to be safe and secure, in a safe environment, in a learning environment, we’re not going to get our economy back on track,” she said.

DeLauro’s bill would appropriate $50 billion for grants that help child care providers affected by the coronavirus pandemic cover their expenses. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the lead sponsor of the Senate version.

It’s a level of investment that would be significantly higher than what Congress has previously considered: The CARES Act appropriated $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, as well as $750 million for the Head Start program. The HEROES Act, the House-passed Democratic proposal for the next round of aid, would appropriate $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants.

“We know that’s not enough,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “We need to stabilize the child care system or we won’t have a robust economic recovery.”

“It is a piece — of course, we need to continue with testing and physical distancing and all those other things — but for people going back to work, these are really long-term ramifications if we don’t address this.”

The issue has gained more prominence in recent weeks as every state begins to reopen its doors and Congress continues to debate how best to get employees back to work quickly and safely. Forty-one state and local chambers of commerce called on lawmakers earlier this month to include targeted assistance to child care centers as part of its next coronavirus response package.

Five Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have written to the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration to ask for clear guidance ensuring that child care providers have access to loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, the government-backed emergency program for small businesses. They cited one analysis showing that family child care homes were seeing an approval rate of roughly 25 percent.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also pledged that the issue “will get very big attention” and that when it comes to the economic recovery and women’s participation in the workforce, child care is “key to it all.”

But the effort will need bipartisan support to be successful, and it remains unclear whether Republicans are willing to sign on.

Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia offered a resolution last month proposing that the next coronavirus relief package include $25 billion for child care providers. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said this week that he would support sending tens of billions of dollars to aid schools and colleges, acknowledging that doing so would help parents and the economy. But he did not comment on child care specifically, and his office did not respond to a request for comment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans have said they want to continue monitoring economic conditions and CARES Act spending before they make decisions on what further stimulus aid might be needed.

In the House, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said on a recent press call with reporters that child care is “an important part of returning to work” and that he would be willing to discuss with Democrats how to maximize the number of child care facilities that can remain open.

At a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing Tuesday focused on the issue, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) went a step further, saying that the forced shutdown of a large portion of child care providers across the country would mean “parents in all industries will be unable to go back to work, significantly slowing our own economic recovery.”

“Child care is exactly the type of smart investment we should be prioritizing as we safely reopen and rebuild America’s economy,” Walorski said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Immigrant women workers on the front lines of meatpacking COVID-19 outbreaks speak out

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Coverage of COVID-19 outbreaks in North Carolina poultry processing plants began with an online tip, but soon multiple workers came forward—risking their livelihoods—to talk about the unsafe working conditions they faced inside the plants. All of them were women.

One of those women is Luz. The 38-year-old immigrant from Mexico has spent the last four years working at the Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. Luz, who is not using her real name, said she estimates nearly 50% of the plant’s workforce are women—some are pregnant, some are elderly, some have preexisting health conditions, and almost all of them are the caretakers and breadwinners in their families. If they get sick, it causes a ripple effect in their homes, in their extended families, and in their communities. 

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in rural central North Carolina, home to poultry processing plants owned by companies like Mountaire, Tyson Foods, and Pilgrim’s Pride. Nationally, North Carolina leads the number of COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants, ranking third in the country for the highest number of meatpacking workers who have contracted COVID-19. As of May 20, Enlace Latino NC’s Victoria Bouloubasis reported that there are 26 outbreaks at plants across the state and more than 2,000 workers have been infected. Three poultry workers are known to have died in North Carolina: Adelfo Ruiz Calvo, a 65-year-old Mexican immigrant and Siler City resident who worked at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Sanford; an unnamed Butterball worker in Duplin County; and Byakubire Mkogabwe, a 71-year-old Congolese immigrant and High Point resident who worked at Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro. 

Dr. David Wohl, a professor of medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill and an infectious disease specialist, told Prism he was seeing a “huge” proportion of Latino community members tied to processing plants test positive for COVID-19. As more people get sick, women like Luz continue to speak out. 

In a conversation with Prism May 22, Luz told Prism what she and other poultry plant workers are up against. Here she is, in her own words, which have been condensed and edited:

I work at the Mountaire processing plant in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina. I have various jobs assigned to me every day. I debone chicken, but sometimes I cut wings or breasts. I work with probably 3,000 people at the plant. We have people who work on different shifts on the line and people who work on the cleaning crew. There are a lot of us, and I’m speaking out today because measures weren’t taken to protect us. The company does not care about our health.

A lot of our workers have immune deficiencies because they are older. Some are pregnant, and others have chronic health problems. From the beginning [of the pandemic], [Mountaire officials] told us that they were not going to close the doors of the plant and that we had no excuse to stop doing our work. They even gave us all letters expressing to authorities that we are essential workers and that we were free to move around and travel to work. [Mountaire] only focused on the need of the company to keep producing. They never considered us as workers. We had to work side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow with no real protection.

They only started providing protective equipment about a month ago, very late into the pandemic, because of the outbreak happening at the plant in Siler City. Now we have a plastic, transparent shield on top of our helmets and there are hand sanitizer dispensers around the plant and the cleaning crew does deep cleaning in the bathrooms and common areas.

When our first workers started to get sick and started to miss work, Mountaire encouraged us to keep working. They offered us bonuses if we didn’t miss any work for the months of April and May. But a lot of people started to miss work, and the company wouldn’t tell us if they decided to stay home or they contracted the virus. Honestly, we don’t know how big the outbreak is. We don’t know the number of people we work with who are sick with the virus. They don’t tell us this information. We feel very vulnerable. We know people can get sick and be asymptomatic and then infect their families.

I do feel very vulnerable. Every day I wake up and I go to work and I feel scared. I use my protective equipment and I take my own protective measures. I do all of the things I’m supposed to, but you know what? I always think about my co-workers who are hired by contractors [and are not considered employees of Mountaire]. I think about them because they don’t have access to the nursing station like we do, they don’t have access to doctors or health care. They don’t make the money we make. They do not have medical or economic support.

None of us know who has or has not been exposed to the virus. [Mountaire officials] evade us at all costs. They don’t give us any answers. We ask: Are people I work with sick with the virus? We are told they can’t tell us or they don’t know. They tell us to ask the main office, but the women at the front desk there are very impolite, especially to Hispanic people. When we ask them questions about the virus, they tell us human resources is too busy for our questions and to come back later.

I don’t know a lot about how testing [for the coronavirus] works. Workers don’t know if the cost is high or if we can get tested without symptoms. I have heard from my friends who got sick that when you go to a hospital, if you tell them you work at the poultry processing plant, they test you immediately. This is because all of the outbreaks these plants have had. Some workers have gone to get tested and now they are afraid of receiving a bill. We don’t know if they will actually get a bill or not. We are not certain about a lot of things.

In my community, I haven’t seen information in English or Spanish with details about testing. Mountaire doesn’t provide us with this kind of information. All they have done is give us the letters that say we are essential workers, but they don’t give us any information about testing. I wish they would test all of us workers. If that day would come, we would feel calmer and safer.

At my plant I would say there are an equal amount of men and women working, but it is women raising our voices. The reason is because many of us are the head of households. We take care of the family, we take care of the children, and we are the breadwinners. We have to protect children, we have to protect our family and our community. Many of my coworkers are women with little children. Schools are closed and there is no place for the children to go. With all of this going on, with all of this stress, Mountaire is forcing us to work on Saturdays. We can’t afford to be vulnerable and exposed at work. This is why so many women who work in plants are speaking out.

I know six coworkers who have been sick with COVID-19. One of them is my close friend. She is an African American woman who is seven months pregnant and tested positive for COVID-19. She hasn’t come back to work. She sent me a message to tell me she contracted the virus. The rest of the people I know who got sick are Latinos. Everyone shared their symptoms and the experience they had so that we can be aware of what to look for.

It hurts me when I read articles where [company officials] blame Latinos and African Americans for our living conditions and say we are responsible for outbreaks in our communities. I’ve read articles where they blame Chinese people for the outbreak. These types of attitudes are very sorry. They are ridiculous. I’m not interested in blame; I’m interested in solutions. I feel very proud to be Mexican. I’m proud of my roots and I’m proud of my family. It’s important to have an extended family that is there for you, that can support you, that can act as a shoulder to rely on. That kind of support is not something to blame; it’s the support our communities need right now to feel safe.

It has been very sad to witness the deaths of so many Latinos [during the pandemic]. In many areas, like here in North Carolina, the majority of the people getting the virus are Latinos. It’s not because we are a dirty or inferior race. The reason is because we have to go to work. We have to provide for our families. We don’t have insurance. That’s the reason why we are exposed and why African Americans are exposed to the virus. There is a huge imbalance in this society and we don’t have any support.

Everyone always says America is wonderful; it’s a country where people have freedom. They say you are free here. But this doesn’t feel like being free. So much racism exists behind a curtain. For me, a very big problem is that people don’t see [immigrant workers] as human beings. We are just employees or just labor. I want people to really see us and care for us; I want people to think about us.

This blog originally appeared at The Daily Kos on June 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tina Vasquez is a gender justice reporter. She covers issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, the fight for reproductive rights, and more.


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Kamala Harris announces equal pay plan: Fine companies that pay women less

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Women are still paid only 80 cents for every dollar men are paid, with black and Latina women paid substantially less—and Sen. Kamala Harris has unveiled a plan to change that. Harris is pledging that, if elected president, she would fine companies that pay women less than men for comparable work.

Companies would have to get an “Equal Pay Certification” from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and if unequal pay kept them from getting certification, the EEOC would fine them 1% of profits per 1% of wage gap. “It should not be on that working woman to prove it. It should instead be on that large corporation to prove that they are paying people for equal work, equally,” Harris told CNN.

The unequal pay fines collected under Harris’ plan would go toward universal paid family and medical leave. Like her plan to strengthen gun laws, Harris would address equal pay through executive action—an acknowledgement that the Senate may continue to be a blockade for progressive policies.

Other 2020 presidential candidates who are in Congress have co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, but Harris has now jumped out in front of the field on this issue.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on May 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

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Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

Sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8th District) in the Senate and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th District) in the House, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights gives nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers and other domestic workers a minimum wage, protection from discrimination and sexual harassment and one day of rest every seven days for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week.

The law amends four other Illinois state laws—the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and the Wages of Women and Minors Act—to include domestic workers.

Over the past five years, the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition has campaigned to demand that domestic workers be provided with the same workplace protections that others have had for decades. Members gathered Tuesday at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago to celebrate.

“Finally, some of the hardest working people in the state of Illinois will receive the dignity and respect they deserve from their work environment,” said Rep. Hernandez.

Magdalena Zylinska, a domestic worker and board member of Arise Chicago, spoke about how demanding domestic work is.

“I have struggled to get by from low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job,” Zylinska said. “But today I am here to celebrate that our years of organizing have finally paid off.”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. While domestic workers have achieved victory in those states, the fight continues for a national bill of rights for domestic workers.

Worldwide, 90 percent of domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women—do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, according to the International Labour Organization. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of domestic workers are female, foreign born and/ or persons of color. They frequently lack protections and face near constant adversity.

“Women are an essential pillar of our society and our families, as you all have seen. The House listened to us. The Senate listened to us, and now the governor has listened to us,” said Maria Esther Bolaños, a domestic worker and leader from the Latino Union of Chicago.

She recalled days where she worked 12 hours and got paid just $12.00.

Grace Padao of AFIRE Chicago echoed Bolaños’ statements with struggles of her own, describing days of being isolated and alone in homes that were not her own, working seven days a week to provide for her family.

“From this day forward, domestic workers in Illinois will never have to face the conditions that I did,” Padao said.

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)

This article was originally posted at Inthesetimes.com on August 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Parker Asmann is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern at In These Times. He is an Editorial Board Member for the Chicago-based publication El BeiSMan as well as a regular contributor to The Yucatan Times located in Merida, Mexico. He graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with degrees in journalism and Spanish, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.

 


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The “What Ifs” of a Woman’s Retirement

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seiu-org-logoWhat if I don’t get a promotion? What if I take time off to raise my children? What if I can’t find another job with benefits? The phrase “what if” seems to be a constant part of life for American women as they navigate their careers.

A recent article from CNN Money reporter Melanie Hickin shows how these “what if” questions continue to follow women even after they’ve exited the workforce.

“Gender inequality doesn’t end at the workplace. For many women, the gender gap haunts them well into their retirement years, when far more women find themselves living in poverty,” writes Hickin.

What if we work for unequal pay?
It’s no secret gender inequality still exists in today’s workforce. Women earn significantly less than men and are less likely to have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. These differences add up to less retirement income for women. On average, women 65 years and older rely on a median income of around $16,000 a year compared to nearly $28,000 for men, according to a Congressional analysis of 2012 Census data.

What if I get married and have kids? 
Women also spend less time in the workforce and take on more family obligations than their male counterparts. While married women tend to do better in retirement, many elderly women are living on their own. Since women live longer than men, they face higher medical costs in retirement, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

What if I can’t afford retirement?
Disparities in pay and savings leave many women working past retirement age. However, many are wondering if they’ll ever be able to retire. And if they do what if they can’t maintain a decent standard of living?

This is a question 69-year-old Gaylord Weston of Belgrade, Maine often asks herself since she retired from her public sector job as an administrative worker. Her pension and Social Security benefits combined provide her with $1,700 a month along with a small inheritance from her mother.

But that money is tightly stretched as she pays for auto and homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, a $6,000 annual heating bill and home repairs for her old farmhouse.

“I know I’m very fortunate. But if my car goes, if I need to put a new roof on the house or (buy) a new furnace for the house, these kinds of expenses would put me under the bridge,” Weston told CNN.

What if there’s a solution?
Efforts to address gender inequality (in retirement) received a boost recently in one state as lawmakers passed the Minnesota Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014. This bold legislative package includes provisions to close the gender pay gap, expand family leave and sick leave, and study and create new private sector retirement savings models for workers.

Although the act hasn’t been fully implemented yet, what if more states followed this model? And what if a similar bill were introduced in Congress?

Last week US Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) called on lawmakers to address retirement insecurity for women with an approach that considers all these factors.

“I think sometimes we don’t connect all of the policies that we talk about today, that we think are so important, whether it is making sure you have childcare so that you can stay at work, whether it is pay equity, how that impacts your finances, both today and when you retire,” said Murray.

What if our government took concrete steps to help women eliminate all of these “what ifs” that seem to define our working lives and prospects for a secure retirement? Let’s work together to make that “what if” a reality!

This article was originally posted on SEIU on May 29, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Keiana Greene-Page


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Unless Something Changes, it Will Take Women 45 Years to Earn as Much as Men

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Jackie TortoraWomen will not receive the same median annual pay as men until 2058, if current earnings patterns continue without change, announced the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) this week.

“Progress in closing the gender wage gap has stalled during the most recent decade. The wage gap is still at the same level as it was in 2002,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of IWPR. “If the five-decade trend is projected forward, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity. The majority of today’s working women will be well past the ends of their working lives.”

IWPR released a new fact sheet that tracks the pay gap from 1960 to today and analyzes changes during the past year by gender, race and ethnicity.

“While there is no silver bullet for closing the gender wage gap,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at IWPR and author of the fact sheet, “strengthened enforcement of our EEO laws, a higher minimum wage and work–family benefits would go a significant way toward ensuring that working women are able to support their families.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on September 20, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

 


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