In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Jan 22, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

President Obama’s Two-Generation Strategy: Right Package, Right Time

President’s Obama’s domestic priorities outlined in Tuesday’s State of the Union address encompass a thoughtful and timely package—not simply a laundry list—to help poor and low-income families lift themselves into the middle class.  CLASP has long advocated for these priorities and strategies because we think that, taken together, they support families and add up to a far greater impact together than any of them could have alone.  We are delighted to see the president’s approach reflects this same judgment.

The president’s proposals on community college, child care, paid leave, and tax credits embrace a two-generation approach to addressing poverty that recognizes the importance of supporting both parents and children. Two-generation policies reflect strong research findings that the well-being of parents is inextricably linked to children’s social-emotional, physical, and economic well-being. At the same time, parents’ ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by how well their children are doing. Because more than 70 percent of poor children live in families with at least one worker, it is essential that we address the needs of both children and their parents in thinking about the workplace as well as the home.  And 26% of community college students are parents–a policy opportunity for helping both generations that CLASP focused on in a panel discussion at a public forum last summer featuring experts and practitioners from the worlds of postsecondary education and early care and education. 

CLASP believes the president’s focus on the following initiatives is directly responsive to the needs of today’s struggling families:

  • Free community college. In describing his plan for community college, President Obama said, “Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.”   Between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of college students who had low incomes rose dramatically, from 40 percent of undergraduate students with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level in 2008, to 51 percent in 2012. Without income to cover basic living expenses, these students will most likely have to work more to cover direct and indirect college costs, increasing time to degree completion.  The president’s plan to pay for community college tuition would help cover the overall cost of attendance, allowing low-income students to use some of their Pell grants to pay for books, transportation, and living expenses.
  • Child Care.  As President Obama forcefully stated, “It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.” When families are able to access quality child care, children are better prepared for success in life and parents are more likely to succeed on the job as they gain peace of mind from knowing their child is well cared for and thriving. Together, these two goals are critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness now and in the future. Moreover, bipartisan support late last year for the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant underscores that this issue has traction.
  • Paid Leave.  Millions of Americans are currently losing wages and jobs in order to care for their families and their health.  Almost all (95 percent) workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid family leave, and 70 percent of these same workers have no access to earned sick days. The Administration’s call for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, federal earned sick days legislation, and proposed investments in state-level paid family and medical leave programs demonstrate a keen awareness of working families’ needs. In addition to helping families, these actions will create a more effective workforce—improving the bottom lines of businesses and driving economic growth.
  • Tax reform. In another strong signal in support of working families, President Obama stated the importance of “helping folks afford child care, college, health care, a home, retirement [by] lowering the taxes of working families, and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.” His strategy? Strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, both of which been shown to effectively help lift families out of poverty, as well as expanding the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education costs, the tax credit for families paying for child care, and creating a new credit to help two-earner families with work expenses.

We applaud this strategic vision that offers a ladder up to the middle class for hard-working poor and low-income families by addressing the needs of both children and their parents.  Achieving the American dream by helping struggling hard-working families improve their skills, take care of their children, and better their and their children’s prospects ought to be something we can all agree on.  It’s the right package at the right time.

 

Dec 23, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

The Gift that Keeps Giving: Business Support for Paid Family Leave Is Nation’s Gain

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

This holiday season, as we celebrate time with friends and family, many of us try to turn our thoughts away from work and all those unread emails, files stacked high on a desk, or long shifts at the cash register or waiting tables. But in the U.S., our jobs are intimately tied to our ability to spend time with family, in good times and bad. Most workers depend entirely on their employers’ discretion when it comes to time – particularly paid time – away from work, whether they need that time to raise a glass of egg nog, or engage in less celebratory but equally important activities, such as caring for an aging parent or recovering from serious illness of one’s own. In this country, with no federal law, private employers determine whether and how workers can earn paid sick, medical, or family leave, or vacation time, leaving it entirely up to employers to determine their workers’ – and their families’ – fate.

Some employers are doing the right thing by guaranteeing workers the ability to earn paid time to care for themselves and their families.  However, for the most part, leaving these decisions to employer discretion has left millions without the protections they need. Fortunately, some employers are stepping up to highlight not only the untapped business benefits that many businesses are missing out on by overlooking paid leave, but also the need for public policies to address unmet need.

EILEEN FISHER, a women’s fashion design and manufacturing firm and retailer, is a great example of a ‘high-road’ employer doing well by its own employees and advocating for public policies that would help all workers. Amy Hall, an executive at the company, notes in a recent, widely published op-ed, “[W]hen our employees don’t have to worry about how they’ll pay the bills during an already stressful period in their lives, it’s easier for them to focus when they work, and the more productive they are, the better we all do.” EILEEN FISHER has joined several other forward thinking members of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), including Uncommon Goods and Better World Club, in supporting the FAMILY Act, federal legislation to create a paid family and medical leave insurance program.

Hall explains, “At EILEEN FISHER, we believe so strongly that this program would be good for the country that we’ve signed on to a petition from the American Sustainable Business Council Action Fund supporting the FAMILY Act. We encourage all businesses to sign on.” She urged Congress to take action on the FAMILY Act in the New Year. Earlier this year, in an op-ed in The Hill, Mitch Rofsky, the president of another ASBC member company, Better World Club, wrote convincingly, “If Congress wants to help businesses grow, it should pass the FAMILY Act and bring the U.S. in line with other developed countries. Businesses, employees—and the marketplace—will be better for it.”

In addition to the splash EILEEN FISHER’s op-ed made last week when it was picked up in dozens of media outlets – and the power of earlier endorsements by other ASBC members – another big name came out in favor of public policies to guarantee paid family leave to workers. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki, recounted her own experience of access to generous paid maternity leave at Google (which owns YouTube). Indeed, Wojicki is about to give birth to her fifth child and will enjoy the company’s 18 weeks of paid parental leave. But while celebrating the good fortune she has at Google, Wojicki rightly says, “[S]upport for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course. Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.”

Hall, Rofsky, and Wojicki join a growing number of high-profile business leaders who believe in public policies that enable working families to take the time they need to care for themselves and their families – and recognize the business benefits of such policies. As 2015 approaches, we expect many more will join the chorus of support.

To see quotes from other leaders who support the FAMILY Act, visit Better Workplaces, Better Businesses, a website sponsored by ASBC, the Main Street Alliance, and Social Venture Network.

Nov 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Job Quality Wins at the Ballot Box; Next Up: Federal Laws and Implementation

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Good jobs are a bipartisan issue—that was the message from voters in yesterday’s midterm elections.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—states where Republicans won gubernatorial and Congressional races—and in several cities in California, voters resoundingly supported initiatives to increase the minimum wage. Cities and counties in Wisconsin and Illinois also supported minimum wage initiatives in non-binding referenda. In Oakland, California; Trenton and Montclair, Jersey; and Massachusetts, workers were also winners with the passage of paid sick days ballot initiatives.

Advocates in all of these jurisdictions have worked tirelessly for this long-awaited victory. Their efforts have built consensus within communities across the country that no one should work full-time, but still live in poverty; parents shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of a sick child and earning a day’s wages; and workers shouldn’t have to show up at work when they ought to be at home recovering from illness. For working families, these are exciting outcomes that will help bolster the nationwide fight for improved job quality and counter the spread of inequality.

Massachusetts’ paid sick days victory at the ballot box comes on the heels of California’s recently passed statewide paid sick days legislation. Until last month, Connecticut was the only state to have such a law. But momentum for paid sick days standards has been building at the local level for some time, with San Francisco passing the nation’s first law in 2007, and an additional nine cities passing laws just in 2014. With a total of three state and 16 city paid sick days laws now in effect or soon to be enacted, the days of counting the country’s sick time protections on one hand are long gone.

In the wake of this week’s victories, ensuring proper implementation and enforcement of existing and newly passed paid sick days laws is critical. Going forward, advocates and government agencies must work together to ensure that recent (and less-recent) paid sick days laws are making a meaningful difference in the lives of working families. On both coasts, agencies charged with paid sick days implementation are already stepping up their game. Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced a new set of strategies to boost employer compliance, now that the city’s law has been effective for more than two years. And New York City is ready to issue its first fines to employers that have failed to comply with the city’s recently enacted law.

Although the results of yesterday’s Congressional election may appear to make action at the national level less likely, it is critical that we continue to push for passage of the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631), the federal paid sick days bill that would guarantee millions more workers access to paid sick days, regardless of what state or city they live in. Indeed, this week’s clear show of bipartisan support for paid sick days, minimum wage, and other job quality measures—which echoes earlier polling results—will hopefully be an eye-opener for both newly elected and returning Members of Congress as they plan their legislative agenda for the coming session.  At the same time, as we advocate for passage of federal paid sick days legislation, local and state campaigns are more important than ever in paving the way to a national labor standard.

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