In Focus

Apr 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality

By Liz Ben-Ishai

In recent months, economic inequality has been a focal point of political and popular debates. President Obama has taken executive action several times in 2014 to try to move the needle on what many feel is an unacceptable level of inequality in the United States. He has raised the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors, extended overtime protections to a larger proportion of workers, and addressed disparities in pay between men and women by requiring greater transparency from federal contractors. All of these actions have the potential to reduce inequality and give those at the bottom of the wage scale a needed boost.

But it’s not just wages that contribute to and perpetuate inequality; other forms of compensation, including access to paid leave, play a considerable role in our nation’s growing economic disparities. Today, CLASP released a brief that reviews the evidence and implications of paid leave as an important facet of economic and social inequality. The brief shows that there are major inequities in access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, and it highlights some of the effects these inequities have on working families.

For a mother who, after a tough job search, finally finds a job that pays above minimum wage, a sick baby can make those extra dollars—or even the job itself—melt away. That’s because, if she’s like the 70 percent of low-wage workers who lack paid sick days, she’ll lose a day’s wages to care for her son or daughter—or worse.  An astonishing one in five low-wage working moms have lost a job due to sickness or caring for a family member.

Low-wage workers are even worse off when they need longer leaves from work in order to address a more serious illness or provide longer-term care to family members. Almost all (95 percent) workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid family leave. As a result, as many as half of all women with less than a high school education give up their jobs when a baby arrives— likely because they have no other option.

Disparities in access to paid leave exist between lower- and higher-wage earners, but also between workers of differing education levels, racial and ethnic groups, and more. Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that many firms treat the workers on the factory floor in a vastly different manner than those in the C-suites. In fact, it’s those making the lowest wages who can least afford to go without paid leave, yet they are most likely to be left behind by their employers.

The good news is that more and more Americans believe this is unacceptable. They are calling for policymakers to take action, which includes passing legislation to guarantee workers access to paid leave. As noted in the brief, majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents agree that such laws are necessary. Across the country, campaigns promoting sick days and family leave insurance  at the local, state, federal levels are bringing to life Americans’ hope for a more equitable society. The success of these campaigns shows that many people now recognize the importance of paid leave. Workers need higher wages, but in order to earn and retain those wages, they also need time to care for their families and their own health.

Read the brief >>

Mar 27, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Scrambling for Stability: The Challenges of Job Schedule Volatility and Child Care

By Liz Ben-Ishai and Hannah Matthews

For Karen, a part-time package delivery person and mom to a one-year-old, making child care arrangements is a weekly exercise in scrambling. That’s because Karen receives notice of her schedule only one week in advance, and her shifts fluctuate. The volatility of her schedule makes everything harder. Karen struggles to find friends and family to care for her baby on short notice. And when she can’t work the magic necessary to arrange child care on the fly, she is disciplined at work for being late or missing a day. Karen’s story, recounted in a 2011 report from the Institute for Workplace Innovation and Workplace Flexibility 2010, highlights how job scheduling and child care challenges can prevent workers from advancing in their jobs and ensuring their children are well-cared for.

Today, CLASP released a new brief that explores the relationship between job scheduling and child care. Scrambling for Stability: The Challenges of Job Schedule Volatility and Child Care lays out the difficulties many low-income parents face as they navigate the mazes of volatile job schedules and child care simultaneously. A growing number of workers have hours that fluctuate from week to week, unpredictable schedules, and minimal control over their hours. These workers are disproportionately earning lower wages. They work in sectors like retail and food service, which are among the fastest growing fields in our economy. At the same time, it is challenging for child care providers to accommodate parents with volatile schedules. As a result, parents like Karen are left to piece together a patchwork of care arrangements, resulting in instability for their children.

Parents facing scheduling and child care challenges experience heightened economic insecurity when these two issues collide. They may have difficulty getting and keeping child care subsidies and may risk their jobs when problems securing child care force them to miss work.

The new CLASP brief offers a list of potential action steps, including public policies to increase job schedule predictability and stability and create more flexible child care subsidy options among others. Moreover, while Scrambling for Stability highlights important existing research, it also identifies the need for more research and data collection to better inform future policy work and advocacy. 

Scrambling for Stability brings together several often disparate policy and advocacy worlds: those that address issues related to job quality and worker fairness and those addressing child care and early education.  Together, we can work towards improved policies that better support families’ economic stability and advancement while fostering children’s healthy development.

Read Scrambling for Stability >>

Mar 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Working for Business: Effects of Connecticut's Earned Sick Leave Law

By Lauren French
The results are in: Connecticut’s earned sick days law has not hurt the state’s economy or taken a toll on individual businesses. These findings, which became public last week in a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the CUNY Murphy Institute, have given a big boost to other earned sick days campaigns gaining traction across the country.

In 2011, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to establish a statewide sick days standard.  The law requires all businesses that employ 50 or more individuals, excluding manufacturers and nationally chartered nonprofits, to provide hourly workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days per year. The law also prohibits employers from taking retaliatory or discriminatory action against employees who use paid leave.

The authors of the report conducted a survey of 251 employers covered by the law and did on-site interviews with managers. Despite business owners' fears when the legislation was proposed, the survey revealed that the paid sick leave law has had little or no impact on employers. In fact, most employers are now in favor of it. “A year and a half after the law went into effect,” the report says, “more than three-quarters of the employers responding to our survey indicated that they now supported the law.”

Most employers reported that they addressed employee sick leave absences using cost-free measures such as assigning work to other employees, swapping shifts, or putting the work on hold. As a result, almost half of employers reported that implementing the law had no effect at all on their bottom line. Another 19 percent reported minimal cost increases of less than two percent.

Claims that earned sick leave would be a “job killer” also proved to be unfounded. As the report notes, “in the period since it took effect, employment levels rose in key sectors covered by the law, such as hospitality and health services, while employment fell in manufacturing, which is exempt from the law.”

During a webinar hosted by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Ruth Milkman, who co-authored the report with Eileen Appelbaum, said employer fears that the law would result in abuse were unfounded. “In fact, it seems clear that workers treat this as a form of insurance,” she noted. “They save it for when they need it.” The study found that 86 percent of employers observed no abuse.

Many employers also reported positive effects of the law, such as improved morale, increased productivity, and reduced spread of illness. In addition, as one human resource manager in the hotel industry noted, “the law ties into retention and turnover in a positive way.”

Lindsay Farrell of Connecticut Working Families said during the webinar that there has not been a business community presence during recent legislative attempts to weaken the law. “They don't care,” she explained. “They thought this would be terrible and it isn't.”

As this report demonstrates, paid sick leave laws have brought many positive effects to Connecticut employers without placing a burden on business. At a time when many states and localities are considering similar legislation, it is important that we separate fact from fiction and learn from Connecticut's experience. This report goes a long way toward ensuring businesses, the public, and policymakers have a clearer picture of the effects of earned sick time on our communities. 

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