Thoughts from Labor Day 2006 – USA

 

From Mercurycenter.com/opinion-Posted on Mon, Sep. 04, 2006:

Working women still contend with workplace inequities
By Linda Chavez-Thompson and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
This Labor Day, working women are worried. And they should be. Although recent studies of women and work have suggested the dawn of an “opt out” revolution, the idea that women are choosing to leave the workforce in droves doesn’t hold up under inspection. A handful of more affluent women may choose to “opt out,” but the vast majority of women work.
They have to.
In a recent AFL-CIO survey of more than 25,000 women, 74 percent said they earn at least half of their household income — and a whopping 38 percent of women say they make nearly all of it. For these households, and for these women, “opting out” is simply not an option.
Women cannot afford not to work. At the same time, women can barely afford to work.
Squeezed between low wages and the high costs of gas and child care, women struggle to make ends meet. And on the job, they face the triple threat of low wages, unaffordable benefits and conditions that are toxic to families.
More than 40 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, women continue to earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Equal pay is a problem across age, race and occupation. For example, a female health technician earns just 76 percent of what her male counterpart does. A female sales associate earns 33.2 percent less than a comparable man, in the same position, according to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To put the gap in perspective: The average 25-year-old woman, throughout the course of her working life, will lose about $455,000 to unequal pay. That’s close to half a million dollars lost to discrimination. Women deserve better.
If single working mothers earned as much as men in comparable jobs, their family incomes would increase by nearly 17 percent. In turn, the raise would cut single working mothers’ poverty rates in half.
Compounding the effects of low pay, women cannot afford basic benefits. Nationally, more than 45 million Americans do not have health insurance. In California alone, 6.7 million people are without coverage. The United States spends more on health care, per capita, than any other advanced industrial nation, yet we have the largest uninsured population, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute.
Finally, women face work conditions that stress the fabric of families. One-third of women who responded to the AFL-CIO survey work evenings, nights and weekends. Two-fifths of women work shifts different from those of partners or spouses. For African-American women, this portion jumps to half. Tell that to the experts who have found that family dinners lead to more well-balanced children and teens.
As women are working increasingly irregular hours, some are also simply working more. Twenty percent of the women who responded to the survey said they work more than one job.
If the reality of work for women in America sounds destructive, it’s because it is. But their struggle merely mirrors that of all workers.
Working people see their living standards threatened. They face the real possibility that their children may not be better off than they are. All too often, big business has cut and run on its responsibilities and our government is letting it happen.
But even within an increasingly hostile environment, workers are finding ways to reach out, connect and push back.
On average, union workers earn 28 percent more than non-union workers, and unions make an even bigger difference in the pay of women and minorities. Women who have a union earn, on average, 31 percent more than non-union workers. Union members are also much more likely to have access to affordable health care and protection from discrimination and other unfair treatment.
Women and working families are finding strength in numbers. One woman without health care is not a national emergency. Millions lacking health care is.
This November, women are ready to make their voices heard at the ballot box. It turns out that the “security moms” of the 2006 elections are focused on economic security. Sixty-five percent of the more than 25,000 women who took part in the AFL-CIO’s “Ask a Working Woman” survey ranked health care as their top legislative concern, followed closely by retirement security. Women and workers will turn out at the polls this year as never before to elect candidates who support working families’ issues — and say goodbye to elected leaders who’ve forgotten who they represent.
It’s time this country made good on its promise of equality. And it’s time we made America work for working people again. is executive officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.

LINDA CHAVEZ-THOMPSON is executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. PHAEDRA ELLIS-LAMKINS


 

From Mercurycenter.com/opinion- Posted on Mon, Sep. 04, 2006:

Few workers have reason to celebrate Labor Day
HEALTH BENEFITS DECLINING, INCOME IS STATIC FOR MANY
Mercury News Editorial
If you’re off work today, we hope you’re relaxing. You deserve it.
For the past five years, most American workers have been working longer and harder, with results to show. Since 2000, productivity of the average American worker has increased an impressive 16 percent.
But if you’re wary about the future, you’re not alone. A number of signs, from a slowdown in housing sales to rising oil prices, indicate the Bush-era recovery, such as it’s been, is stalling.
And if you’re anxious about your finances, you’ve got company. Except for those who get really fat paychecks, wages and salaries have stagnated across the nation for the past five years. The benefits of that productivity have been skewed toward the top earners and toward the bottom line. Corporate profits, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are at a near 50-year high.
The wages of the typical middle-income American worker have risen less than 1 percent since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. Some of what might have gone to take-home pay has been diverted to pay for health care, a costly expense for the declining number of companies still providing it. In the meantime, the average CEO now makes 300 times the average wage.
But even after factoring in benefits, the income in the state’s typical household was $365 below that of 2001, inflation-adjusted, according to an analysis of census data released last week by the California Budget Project. Rising home values on the East and West coasts and hot spots in between have made families feel richer, but that’s because they’ve been borrowing against equity and spending, not saving. Of course, trying to buy a first home is tougher than ever. A median-income family could afford only one in seven of the houses that sold in the valley in March.
Housing that’s out of reach undermines the efforts of employers to attract and retain good workers. The private sector and government must work together to ease the shortage: companies, by spreading more of their record profits on paychecks, and governments, by creating wise land-use policies. And both the state and federal governments should be working together on the health care crisis.
But the Bush administration has ignored the growing numbers of families without medical coverage. And, at a time when the rich are doing the best, its regressive tax cuts have magnified growing income disparities and saddled future generations of workers with higher debt. The war in Iraq has squandered revenue that should have gone toward expanding health care, investing in scientific research and new energy technologies and expanding college aid for middle-income students.
California took a step toward income equality when Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature agreed last month to raise the minimum wage to $8 per hour. Another part of the solution could be raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest — not out of resentment or leveling for leveling’s sake. The money could be targeted to health care for every child and really fixing bad schools so that low-income kids have a chance to do better than their parents.
Silicon Valley remains the vanguard for America’s economy and a place where the smart, ambitious and bold can leap up the income ladder. The latest report from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group confirms that the valley continues to attract the bulk of cutting-edge capital investment.
But even in the valley, job creation, particularly in established companies, has been lagging behind profits and stock options. When they expand, companies are creating software, engineering and research jobs in China, Russia and India, where people with doctorates abound, and living is cheaper.
No region has benefited more from a global economy than the valley. But along with providing Americans a continuous flow of cheap clothes and flat-screen TVs, globalization is fostering insecurity by squeezing wages of the middle class used to seeing rewards of productivity steered their way.

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