Federal Policy Should Improve Job Quality
While skills development is essential for advancing the prospects of low-skill individuals, it alone is insufficient to expand economic opportunity for low-wage workers and their families. Our jobs need to be modernized to match the realities of today in which both parents are typically in the workforce and in which the care of elders often falls to adult children. Today's reality is one in which the minimum wage has less value than it did at its peak in 1968. Then, the full time minimum wage worker brought home today's equivalent of $20,000. Today, such workers earn much less over the year-just $15,000. And our minimum working standards have not kept pace with other developed nations, not only in terms of health care for workers but also in relation to paid time off and responsive workplaces. The prevalence of poor quality jobs is a critical issue that deserves government attention.
The recession and high unemployment pose a particular challenge to fostering jobs that match our values. As part of its 2010 Federal Policy Recommendations, CLASP recommends that the Obama Administration make it a top priority to improve the quality of work for all workers, with a special focus on low-wage workers since poor quality jobs are especially prevalent in the low wage labor market. The administration has taken a number of steps including: attention to wage theft by employers who fail to follow laws such as overtime payments; official statements in support of paid sick days legislation; and supporting paid family medical leave for military families. More needs to be done, however. In 2005, one in four workers was working in a poverty level job.
Pass legislation aimed at improving jobs. Congress needs to pass legislation aimed at improving jobs, which would include a minimum labor standard that mandates paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and expanding the Family Medical Leave Act to include employers with fewer than 50 employees and broader purposes for which paid leave may be used. The administration's FY 2011 budget includes a $50 million fund for those states that launch paid family leave insurance programs and this should move expeditiously. Congress should pass the Employee Free Choice Act, index the minimum wage to median wages, and modernize laws around tipped wages. In addition, jobs created through federal investment in infrastructure, the environment and other areas should meet certain job quality standards and be subject to targeted hiring requirements.
Ensure job quality by taking executive action. A high road economic growth strategy will keep America competitive. The administration should establish a presidential commission aimed at recommending policies that would ensure equitable treatment of part-time workers regarding pay, benefits, advancement, workplace flexibility, and improvements in low-wage work. Further, the administration should call upon its Middle Class Task Force and its Commission on Women and Girls to use their cross-agency mandates to create an interagency effort to identify what can be accomplished through executive action, make recommendations for policy makers about further legislative action to improve job quality, and issue a report about the progress made by the administration.