Celebrate Local, State Victories on Labor Day: New Laws Promote Job Quality
A $15 minimum wage. Paid sick days. Ordinances to prevent and redress wage theft. “Ban the box” laws limiting discriminatory questions about criminal records on job applications. Paid family leave insurance. Rules giving workers the right to request predictable or flexible job schedules..
No, this is not an ode to progressive Canadian or European labor laws – rather, all are important advancements enacted in the U.S. in the past year – at the state and city levels. Across the country, despite gridlock in Congress, workers and advocates have been winning campaigns to enact new rules that will improve the quality of jobs, particularly those paying lower wages. This Labor Day, we should look at these successes – and beyond – for a model of how to improve the quality of jobs for all Americans.
In the wake of the Great Recession, job growth is concentrated in low-wage sectors that leave families struggling to get by, and the wages in these sectors are getting worse. Over the past four years, wages have declined for millions of U.S. workers in the top ten lower-wage occupations, including declines of more than 5 percent for personal care aides, restaurant cooks, food preparation workers, maids and housekeepers, and home health aides.
It’s not just wages that matter. As the new labor standards passed in states and cities suggest, high-quality jobs build on that foundation to provide stable and predictable hours, paid leave, and opportunities for advancement. Unfortunately, as a new report released today by CLASP shows, the growing number of low-wage jobs comes with a widening gap in access to quality jobs.
Many employer-provided benefits are in decline. Just in the past four years, access to retirement benefits has dropped 5 percent for those in the lowest quartile of wage earners. Financial struggles do not wait until retirement but begin on day one, when far too many workers can’t even take a single paid day away from work to bond with a new baby, let alone recover from childbirth. A mere 5 percent of low-wage workers have access to paid family leave. And don’t be fooled into thinking they can simply take vacation or sick days: nearly half of workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid sick, family, personal, or vacation time – zero paid leave of any kind. These workers must return to the job days after the arrival of a new child, or quit their jobs, plunging into economic uncertainty.
New research highlights the rampant problems of job schedule instability and unpredictability in low-wage jobs. Among early-career workers in hourly jobs, 40 percent receive one week or less advanced notice of their schedules; nearly 70 percent of mothers and 80 percent of fathers with young children experience significant fluctuations from week to week in the number of hours they receive. These issues were in the spotlight recently when a Starbucks’ employee’s desperate juggling act to care for her son while working erratic shifts received high-profile coverage, which prompted the Fortune 500 company to rethink its scheduling practices.
Yet the solutions to our crisis of job quality won’t be found in the efforts of individual companies, but in strong public policies, like those passed in many states and cities last year. This Labor Day, we should celebrate these victories, but as we do so, we must turn our attention to implementation efforts, ensuring that these new laws genuinely improve working families’ lives.
Access to good jobs shouldn’t depend on where in America you live. That’s why, in addition to state and local protections, we need national policies. As suggested in CLASP’s report, we should start with macroeconomic policies that support strong job growth, including the repeal of crushing sequestration cuts. For those who can’t find work, we need flexible unemployment insurance policies that recognize the realities of today’s workforce, including the participation of many working caregivers. To overcome the social, political, and economic problems created by growing inequality, we need public policies that help all workers, including low-income youth and adults of color, find good jobs.
Finally, the nation needs a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and fair scheduling policies. In addition, we need beefed-up enforcement of labor standards that already exist, yet aren’t always upheld.
While we work towards Congressional action on these issues, which affect everyone in the country, workers, advocates, and elected officials in even more states and localities, are continuing to take matters into their own hands.
Here’s hoping that the movement for better job quality will see many more successes for all Americans, regardless of where they live, before Labor Day rolls around next year.