My Brother’s Keeper Skating on Thin Evidence?

by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.

Once again the President’s advisors in the White House do not appear to be serving him well.  Despite a thin base of evidence regarding the effectiveness of programs targeting boys and men of color, the President is going all out to exclude girls and women of color for an important initiative.

The President announced My Brother’s Keeper as a new initiative at the end of February and called upon the task force that he formed to review data and develop indicators to measure progress for boys and young men of color, survey government programs to see what is working or not working, reach out to private sector (including nonprofit) partners, and report to him at the end of May.  So far, counting today’s announcements, the task force (consisting of federal officials) has raised more than $300 million in private funds that the White House says will be targeted at improving the opportunities of boys and young men of color.

Almost immediately questions were raised first by women of color in the media, then by 200 black men writing an open letter, and then by more than 1200 women of color doing the same, and then by mainstream women’s organizations issuing statements to the press: where are the girls and young women of color?

Girls and boys of color grow up in the same families, live in the same neighborhoods, and attend the same schools.  Girls and boys of color share many of the same challenges but also face a few that are unique to each gender.  While boys of color score lower than girls on some indicators, girls of color score lower than boys on others.  All would benefit from good programs.

Today, the President announced that several government agencies will make special efforts to increase services that can help boys and young men of color succeed.  Surely women’s organizations will be watching closely to make sure those tax dollars are spent in a gender equitable way.

Unfortunately, there is no comparable, ongoing federal effort to identify challenges facing girls and women of color, review data and develop indicators to measure their progress, survey federal programs to see what is working and or not working for them, or, crucially, raise $300 million from private sources to develop solutions for them.

According to the MBK task force report itself, there is very little evidence that any programs for boys of color work, and, of course to exclude girls, the evidence would have to prove that those that do work do not work as well for boys when girls of color are included.  Although the White House claims the MBK initiative is evidence-based, the report presents no evidence to justify excluding girls and young women of color from the initiative.  Boys are rarely compared with girls in the report and no programs are identified as being successful for boys alone. In other words, the inference that boys of color need this investment of resources more than their female counterparts has yet to be substantiated by the MBK initiative.

In the face of all the criticism, the White House has stonewalled.  Finally six weeks after the report was released and months after the criticism began in the media, White House leaders, including Broderick Johnson, who has led the MBK initiative, Valerie Jarrett, and Tina Tchen, met with a few critics and supporters at the White House on July 15. At that meeting and since, White House officials have said MBK will remain all male.  They are happy to discuss ways to do something for girls and young women of color—perhaps collect better data, for instance—but not through MBK.

Since all federal programs generally must be open to everyone, what’s the point of excluding girls and women of color from this initiative?  I’m sure it comes across as a shocking and hurtful omission to young women and girls of color.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

As You Celebrate the 4th, Remember Why America’s Working Families Need Unions to Stay Strong

by Brigid O’Farrell

As you celebrate with your loved ones over the holiday, remember how unions have helped American families secure prosperity and opportunity, and why we should consider unions a basic form of democracy.

The decline of the American labor movement, now representing just 12 percent of the workforce, and the corresponding increase in inequality hurts working families. Whether a home health aide, teacher, electrician, or autoworker, you are less likely to have a voice at work. This means lower wages, fewer benefits, and less ability to care for your family. It also means less democracy in our country.

The union advantage for working families starts with higher wages. On average, union women earn 13 percent more per hour than women not in unions and this is especially true for low-wage jobs women hold. The union advantage for office cleaners, for example, is 28 percent. Collective bargaining also reduces the gender wage gap between women and men by half.

Higher wages are critical to the well being of working families, but not enough. The union advantage also includes better access to higher paying jobs, often through apprenticeship training, as well as access to paid sick days, short-term disability, family leave, better schedules, and child care.

Just last week, President Obama told his White House Summit on Working Families, that, “Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage—these are not frills, they are basic needs… part of our bottom line as a society.” Labor was in the house: Over 250 union members and allies made their voices heard. Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, representing 57 unions and over 13 million members, and Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2.1 million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) highlighted union support for family friendly public policies and collective bargaining as a tried and true method for securing not only decent wages and safe working conditions, but for negotiating flexible schedules and paid leaves. For example:

Kay Thompson is the mother of four daughters who has worked at Macy’s flagship store on Herald Square in New York City for over 20 years. She is a proud member of Local 1-S, Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union/UFCW. She told the audience that she was able to provide for her family with a flexible yet predictable schedule because of her union contract.

Connie Ashbrook, union elevator constructor and executive director of Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., focused on the 50 percent of jobs that require science, technology, engineering or math skills (STEM), but don’t require a college degree. Women are capable and interested in skilled trade jobs, but still hold less than 3 percent of these occupations. Outreach, training and enforcing employment discrimination laws are policies that help her work with unions and contractors to increase the number of women in the trades.

Union members also gathered at the AFL-CIO headquarters the day before to share their stories at Working Families Speak Up!

Dina Yarmus is a hotel and restaurant worker who defended her healthcare plan through UNITEHERE Local 274 in Philadelphia. Joanne Hager is a construction laborer from Minneapolis and trainer for LiUNA Local 563. Being a tradeswoman transformed her life—a living wage, a pension plan, a union job. Connie Leak, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and UAW member, told other workers that this wasn’t just about boots on the ground, but about “heels, flats, and sneakers heading to the streets” to talk about working family issues and the importance of unions, collective bargaining, and public policy.

Working family polices are often a mix of public and private actions. California provides an example of how unions helped to secure a family friendly state policy that women and men now use to sustain their families, maintain their economic stability, and keep their jobs.

The United States is one of just three countries in the world without a paid family leave policy. California was the first state to take action to address this problem, now joined by New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Under the California Paid Family Leave Act employees pay into the insurance system regardless of the size of their employer and have access to six weeks of paid leave to care for new children or ill family members. Employers do not pay into the system, but have to accommodate the time off. The Labor Project for Working Families helped make paid leave in California a reality. They receive leadership and financial support from many unions and worked for years to help pass this bill. 

In Unfinished Business, Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, professors Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum document labor’s role and their finding that there are almost no negative effects on business. Management executives talk about how good the program is for their companies. Many employees, however, are unaware that they pay into the fund and have access to the benefits. This is true in the building and construction industry where any kind of paid leave has not generally been available.

Krista Brooks and Johnathan Brooks, both apprentice electricians with IBEW Local 617 in San Mateo, CA, illustrate how having good apprenticeship jobs and a paid family leave policy are very important to families. Krista, one of the 2.6 percent of women in the skilled trades, just graduated from her apprenticeship program and is completing her work hours to reach journey-level status. Johnathan is a second year apprentice. Both parents were able to spend quality time with their newborn without sacrificing their much needed paychecks or their jobs.

The couple heard about paid family leave from other union members. Krista was able to take disability leave for part of her pregnancy and use paid family leave when her daughter was born. Johnathan was then able to take paid family leave in two phases. First he had two weeks right when the baby was born. A few weeks later when Krista went back to work he was able to take more time to bond with the new baby. The apprentices, their local union, and the contractors worked together maintaining insurance coverage and having jobs when the parents returned. They didn’t have their full salaries and things were tight, but paid family leave made a big difference.

While the number of women in the workforce has reached an historic proportion and more men are opting to stay home with children, the problems are not new. In 1963 President Kennedy released American Women, the report of his President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Fifty years ago the report noted that 70 other western industrialized countries offered paid maternity leave and called for the U.S. to do the same. They documented the urgent need for quality, affordable child care. The commission cited the concentration of women in low-wage jobs as the primary cause of the wage difference between women and men. They called for improved vocational education, counseling for non-traditional jobs, and an end employment discrimination against women.

The Commission stressed that the value of unions and collective bargaining had already been well established and secured through the National Labor Relations Act. They called for states to do the same. Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the President’s Commission, wrote that “There are only two ways to bring about protection of the workers…legislation and unionization.” She later told the United Nations Human Rights Commission that “the right to form and join trades unions [is] an essential element of freedom.” For her, unions represented democracy in the workplace, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, and were a model for democracy in the country and around the world. 

Maybe it’s time for a summit on the importance of unions and collective bargaining for working families and for our democracy. But in Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, “We can’t just talk. We have got to act.” 

This post originally appeared on AlterNet. Brigid O’Farrell’s most recent book is She Was One of Us:  Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker.  With Betty Freidan she edited Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family. See www.bofarrell.net.

IWPR Launches New National Work on the Status of Women in the States

by Cynthia Hess, Ph.D.

IWPR recently launched new work on its Status of Women in the States project, an influential series of research reports and data analyses that has provided reliable data on the economic, social, health, and political status of women for nearly two decades. With partial support from the Ford Foundation, IWPR is developing a national report with state-level data on the status of women, a report on the status of women in the U.S. South (including eleven Southern states and the District of Columbia), and  fact sheets on the status of women, one each for the 50 states and Washington, DC. This work will expand on IWPR’s long-running series: to date, IWPR has produced more than 100 Status of Women in the States publications, including comprehensive reports on each U.S. state and the District of Columbia, several city/area reports, and a series of reports and a toolkit on women in the Middle East and North Africa.

Developed in partnership with expert advisory committees, IWPR’s forthcoming reports will provide disaggregated data to explore how contextual factors such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation correlate with higher or lower status on a range of indicators. Following the methodology developed by IWPR in the mid-1990s, the reports will provide a composite index for each of the main topical areas covered—employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy,health and well-being, reproductive rights, and political participation—and assign letter grades and rankings that reflect each state’s performance in these areas. IWPR will also develop new chapters for the national and Southern states reports on work-family issues and violence against women. The reports will be released in 2015.

In the initial project phase, IWPR has established advisory committees for the national and Southern states reports consisting of researchers, advocates, service providers, business and labor leaders, media and communications experts, philanthropists, and policymakers. In later phases IWPR will enhance outreach and dissemination through website development and online engagement. The project expects to develop interactive charts and maps, downloadable data tables, and other data visualizations that will all be available on the website. These visualizations will make the findings more user-friendly and communicate information about the status of women in an engaging and succinct way.

This phase of IWPR work on the Status of Women in the States marks an exciting new chapter in the Institute’s ongoing efforts to provide reliable information that can serve as a catalyst for positive changes for women and their families. For nearly two decades, state and federal policymakers, journalists, advocates, and community leaders have used IWPR’s Status of Women in the States reports to make the case for improved programs and public policies. The project’s many outcomes include strengthening the case for millions of dollars in additional state and local funding for services that benefit women; strengthening or creating organizations, councils, or task forces on women; informing the economic agendas of local, state, and federal policymakers; and determining programmatic investments. IWPR looks forward to continuing to provide targeted state and national data to organizations seeking to strengthen local communities and society as a whole by improving the status of women.

To find out more information and to learn how to support the project, click here.

Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., is a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Let’s shift up women’s representation!

by Marni Allen, Director, Political Parity

At the rate we’re going—with women representing only 20 percent of Congressional seats—we aren’t predicted to reach parity until 2121. The Washington Post writes that this estimation is on par with when humans are expected to begin setting up colonies on the moon.

We can’t wait 107 years to ensure women’s voices are equally represented in the halls of government. That road is too long. It’s time to shift gears.

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IWPR President Heidi Hartmann (second from right) discusses new research on women running for office. (Photo Credit: Fatah Sadaoui, Fatahgraphy.com)

Political Parity is putting the pedal to the metal. On May 21, Parity and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) launched Shifting Gears: How Women Navigate the Road to Higher Office, a report exploring how women build political careers. We were joined by researchers Bob Carpenter of Chesapeake Beach Consulting, Heidi Hartmann of IWPR, Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, and Shauna Shames of Parity.

Lake emphasized that the biggest barrier hindering women from seeking and securing public office is lack of access to well-resourced networks. Shames added that because of hyperpartisanship and the lack of diversity among current officeholders, women are less likely than their male counterparts to see politics as an avenue to address issues of importance to them. This disconnect between politics and positive change is deterring women’s candidacies.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards’ (D-MD) first candidacy challenged a seven-term incumbent in Congress. She shared that despite losing the first time around, this experience set her up for her future win. “If you don’t run risks, you don’t get to play in the game at all,” she said. “If you aren’t willing to run a second time, what’s the point of running the first time?” Former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey (R-MA) elaborated that “failure is an experience you use to pivot on for your next try.”

Transitioning into the importance of women’s voices in office, Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-NJ) hit on a key finding in Shifting Gears research: motherhood is a motivator. “Do I think about [my kids] every time I turn in a bill?” she asked. “Absolutely.” So few mothers, she explained, are serving in office. “We need more women going through that stage of their life [in politics],” she added.

Shifting Gears sparked a national political conversation, earning three mentions from The Washington Post political blogs:

  • She the People featured the report findings and charts, focusing on women’s initial motivations to run, barriers to running, and strategies employed by female politicians on the campaign trail.
  • On Leadership highlighted our key finding that just 35 percent of female legislator respondents considered politics a career, and also addressed women’s lack of party support and limited access to informal networks for fundraising.
  • The Fix turned its attention to Senate primaries, citing what women in politics literature knows so well: when women run, women win. But not many women are running.

The Daily Beast published an op-ed by Parity’s Director Marni Allen and Research Fellow Shauna Shames, injecting Shifting Gears into the national confidence-versus-structure debate. “To encourage more women to run for office,” they argue, “we need to confront the personal, structural AND social barriers standing in the way.”

#ShiftingGears spurred a lively conversation on Twitter, engaging scores of activists, researchers, and media outlets to spotlight women’s underrepresentation.

We need your voice. What can you do?

  1. Visit and share the Shifting Gears research page on Parity’s website with the hashtag #ShiftingGears.
  2. Read, comment on, and share Shifting Gears coverage: She the People, On Leadership, The Fix, and The Daily Beast.
  3. Incorporate Shifting Gears research into your curriculum or organization’s programming, if applicable.

Join Political Parity in accelerating women’s electoral progress. We’re not waiting for 2121.

Marni Allen is the director of Political Parity, a program of the Hunt Alternatives Fund. Political Parity is a nonpartisan platform for accelerating the energies of passionate and dedicated leaders, researchers, and funders changing the face of US politics.

6 Things Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler Missed about the Gender Wage Gap

by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Barbara Gault, Ph.D., and Ariane Hegewisch

(This post is in response to Glenn Kessler’s two Pinocchio rating of “President Obama’s persistent ’77-cent’ claim” on April 9, 2014, in the Washington Post.)

Glenn Kessler presents a very one-sided discussion of the wage gap in this April 9th “Fact Checker” post in which he increased President Obama’s rating on his use of wage gap statistics from one Pinocchio (in the 2012 campaign) to two—he should have lowered it from one to zero.  President Obama has correctly used a long standing data series issued every year by the Census Bureau.  The 77 percent wage ratio figure is an accurate measure of the inequality in earnings between U.S. women and men who work full-time, year-round in the labor market.

Here are some other things to keep in mind about that statistic:

1) Kessler claims that President Obama uses the 77 percent wage ratio figure because it shows the biggest wage gap when other data series available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show slightly smaller gaps.  Leaving aside how Kessler could get inside the President’s head and know why he picked a certain series, everyone who writes about this issue should know that this figure based on median annual earnings is the historical headline figure that allows the longest comparison across time.

2) Kessler claims that the other series—weekly or hourly earnings—are more accurate, but there is simply no basis for saying so.  The 77 percent figure actually includes the broadest range of kinds of earnings; for example annual bonus payments are a big part of remuneration in some fields and are included in the 77 percent figure, but are excluded from the weekly or hourly earnings figures.

3) In his first fact check column (posted online at 6:15 am on April 9, 2014), Kessler failed to note that other measures show a much larger gap than the 23 percent figure President Obama used.  If part-time workers were included, a figure that Statistics Canada uses, the wage ratio would be 71 percent and the gap 29 percent.  The United Kingdom has used life-time earnings ratios.  One IWPR study found that across 15 years (ending in 1998, using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics), the typical American woman earned just 38 percent of the typical man.  The Urban Institute, using Social Security earnings data, finds that the typical wife earns about 50 percent of what her husband does across their working lives. Kessler had updated his column to add mention of these other measures, but fails to alter his conclusion that the President used the biggest wage gap.  In fact, the figure the President used falls in the middle of the range and is the one most commonly used for the past 60 years.

4) Kessler emphasizes that women ‘choose’ different and lower-paying college majors than men and seems to think such differences mean that the wage gap measure is not a good measure of economy-wide wage inequality.  ‘Choice’ is, of course, an unverified assumption. There is considerable evidence of barriers to free choice of professions, ranging from lack of unbiased information about job prospects to actual harassment and discrimination in male dominated jobs. It is highly likely that there are many women who are freely choosing to become social workers, and are making well-informed decisions, and the same is likely to be true for men choosing to be engineers. However, there are no hard facts on how many, or indeed, how many would ‘choose’ otherwise in a world of complete information and nondiscriminatory employment.  For example, in a world where half of engineers were women and half of social workers were men, men and women might ‘choose’ very differently than they do now. We do know that young women and men generally express the same range of desires regarding their future careers in terms of such values as making money and having some flexibility and autonomy at work, as well as time to spend with family members.

5) There are legal cases, as well as social science research studies, that show that, just by the mere fact of being a mother, women’s advancement opportunities shrink, and just by being a father, men’s grow. Yet, there is no proof that being a mother makes a woman less productive on the job.  And why should women who may be decades past the phase of active childrearing still be suffering a wage penalty?  While it is true that women typically take more time away from work for child rearing than do men, that decision often makes economic sense when a wife’s wages are lower than her husband’s—equal pay would likely lead to more equitable sharing of child rearing and to women and men working in the labor market about the same amount over their lifetimes.  Research shows subsidizing the cost of child care and providing paid parental leaves of up to six months would help women and men return to work sooner. While Kessler has said the goal of his Fact Checker column is to provide needed context to what political leaders say, this is a part of the needed context he omitted entirely.

6) It is true, as Kessler notes, that when factors such as occupation and parental or marital status are used as control variables in statistical models aiming to explain what ’causes’ the wage gap, the size of that gap will be reduced, and what is left unexplained is generally thought to possibly be the result of discrimination. But it is just as likely that discrimination affects these ‘control’ variables as well as the size of the remaining gap. Unfortunately, Kessler cites only the literature that ignores the possibility of discrimination affecting the control variables.  He cites economist June O’Neill, well-known in the field for her opposition to government intervention to reduce the size of the wage gap. He also cites a study commissioned by the George W. Bush administration and done by a conservative research firm, CONSAD, which Kessler “camouflages” by saying the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank cited it.  Kessler fails to cite peer reviewed literature surveys published in mainstream economics journals, including papers by Francine Blau and former Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and co-author Joseph G. Altonji. These latter studies estimate that 25-40 percent of the gross wage gap remains unexplained when factors reasonably thought to affect productivity are included as control variables in the models.

The 77 percent figure covers everyone working full-time, year round and does not reflect only women and men doing exactly the same job in the same firm; however, it does reflect women and men working full-time, year round not earning the same. The wage gap figure reflects a number of different factors: discrimination, lower earnings in occupations mainly done by women, and also the fact that women still tend to be the ones to take more time off work when families have children.  Just because the explanation of the gender wage gap is multi-faceted does not make it a lie.

We should note that on occasion, many politicians—including U.S. presidents—journalists, and others present the 77 percent figure as comparing men and women who do the same jobs, and this unfortunate tendency has led to great confusion.  But President Obama was careful in both his recent State of the Union speech and his Equal Pay Day speech to use the figure without that inaccurate qualifier. In his 2008 campaign, his literature often used the phrase ‘unequal pay for an equal day’s work’—that phrase is an accurate way to refer to men and women who both work full-time earning different pay.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is a MacArthur Fellow and the president and founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Barbara Gault, Ph.D., is the vice president and executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Ariane Hegewisch is a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Jump Starting Real Wage Growth for Women: Increasing the Minimum Wage and Improving Overtime Laws

By Heidi Hartmann

In the context of a lost decade of wage growth for women, two recent proposals—to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour (including increasing the separate minimum wage for tipped workers), and to increase the threshold salary for overtime pay to $50,000 annually—can provide much needed relief to women.  

Increasing the minimum wage requires that the U.S. Congress pass a law. The current minimum wage of $7.25 was set in 2007and went into effect in 2009, but President Obama has already acted by executive order to require firms that hold contracts with the federal government to pay their workers a minimum of $10.10 per hour.  In contrast, increasing the salary threshold for receiving overtime pay, does not require congressional action, but does require action by the Secretary of Labor. President Obama has recently directed Secretary Perez to consider what can be done to ensure that workers are paid fairly for their overtime hours. The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the overtime pay premium at 50 percent more than the regular wage or salary, also known as “time and a half.” Currently the threshold annual salary is set at about $23,000 ($455 per week).  A worker classified as executive, administrative, or professional, who earns more than that annual salary does not currently need to be paid overtime.

Because women earn less than men on average, it is not surprising that women are the majority—64 percent—of those who earn the minimum wage and would thus benefit disproportionately from an increase in the minimum wage.  Economists expect that employers will also increase the pay of workers earning somewhat above the minimum, in keeping with past experience of minimum wage increases.  An EPI analysis shows that 15.3 million women—9.6 million directly and 5.7 million through the spillover effect— would receive a pay increase were the minimum wage to be raised to $10.10 per hour.  EPI also finds that nearly one-third of all working single mothers—or 2.3 million women—would receive a direct or indirect pay increase. Overall 55 percent of workers who would benefit from the increase are women.

A new report from the White House released earlier this morning points out that an even larger proportion of those affected by the tipped minimum wage—which has been stuck at $2.13 per hour since 1991—are women:  72 percent of tipped workers are women in occupations such as hair stylists, restaurant servers, and bartenders.  Employers need pay such workers only $2.13 per hour on the assumption that tips will raise their pay to the required $7.25 per hour.  According the White House report, about 10 percent of workers in these jobs say that does not happen.  The average wages of tipped workers are very low and their likelihood of being in poverty is high.  The White House analysis finds that about half of workers in tipped occupations would benefit from the proposal to increase the tipped minimum wage to $4.90 per hour by 2016. Of those whose wages would increase, 74 percent are women.

Likewise, women are the majority (54 percent) of all supervisory, managerial, and professional workers earning less than the proposed new overtime threshold of $984 per week, meaning that 5.3 million women would be newly covered by a requirement to be paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week. Currently, about 1 million of these women typically work more than 40 hours per week and would have to be paid 50 percent more for those additional hours beyond 40.   Furthermore, of all those high-level workers who earn above the new threshold and would not be required to be paid overtime, only 37 percent are women.  (Findings reference an unpublished analysis by EPI’s Heidi Shierholz.)

These two changes—the first by law, the second by regulation, and both administered by the Wages and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor—would help ensure that real wages rise for millions of women, not to mention many men, in the coming decade.  In its new report the White House estimates that the minimum wage change alone would close the wage gap between women and men by more than one percentage point.

Heidi Hartmann, PhD, is the founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The Lost Decade of Wage Growth for Women

by Heidi Hartmann

Twice a year, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) updates its fact sheet, “The Gender Wage Gap,” to report the latest data as they become available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.  This year, we noticed something new when we added the latest figure for median weekly earnings for men and women who work full-time—a virtual standstill in women’s real wages for the past ten years. This was true when looking at trends in both usual weekly earnings and annual earnings for those who work full-time, year-round.

For several decades, as new Fed chair Janet Yellen notes, women have been the success story in the economy. Women increasingly pursued higher education, eventually surpassing men in college graduation rates. Women also joined the labor force in larger numbers, worked more throughout their lives, and entered a variety of occupations that had been formerly virtually closed to them, becoming  bus drivers, mail carriers, fire fighters, police officers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and many others.

These gains in education and work experience (what economists call human capital) contributed to narrowing the wage gap, and the equal opportunity legislation of the 1960s and 1970s helped too. The gender wage gap closed from 40 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2012 (in terms of annual earnings). Women’s real earnings—meaning wages adjusted for inflation—grew as well, from $22,418 in 1960 to $28,496 in 1970, $30,136 in 1980, $34,247 in 1990, $37,146 in 2000, and $38,345 in 2012.

In contrast, men’s real earnings have not grown since about 1975, although men’s real earnings have remained higher than women’s. In that year, men’s earnings were $50,093 (in 2013 dollars) and in 2012, they were $50,122.  In other words, men have had nearly four decades of stagnant wages.  Explanations for this are many, but the most persuasive in my view is that, for a variety of reasons stemming from institutional and policy changes, the productivity gains that the U.S. economy has enjoyed have simply not been passed on to workers (except those at the very top). Ordinarily, we economists expect workers’ wages to grow along with GDP growth and productivity growth (more output per hour worked).   In the modern economy, men’s real wages have simply failed to thrive.

Women’s real earnings, however, did grow, until about 2002 when they too caught “real wages failure to thrive” disease. What caused this stagnation for women? Economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn from Cornell University have described women’s success in the labor market as “swimming upstream.” Women were able, for several decades, to overcome the forces that have been generating increased economic inequality in America. By increasing their human capital and gaining access to new, better paid  occupations, firms, and industries, women were able to achieve a significant degree of equality with men, despite trends pushing the top and the bottom further apart.

Now it seems as if the current is finally overpowering women, making it increasingly difficult for them to swim upstream. This is not to say that discrimination is any worse than it has been in the past, but progress in reducing discrimination is no longer being made.  As IWPR’s fact sheet shows, women’s annual earnings in 2012 are slightly less than they were in 2001, at $38,438.  Women’s weekly earnings at $706 in 2013 are about the same as they were in 2004, at $707.

What is to be done?  I believe only a major policy shift, similar to what occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, with the Equal Pay Act (1963), the Civil Rights Act (1964), and Title IX (1972), will be able to get women’s wages back on track.  The changes needed fall into four areas:  1) better enforcement of existing equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws and new legislation to fill the gaps in current law; 2) policies that help bring up the bottom of the labor market, which can jump start real wage growth; 3) policies that address the family needs of workers; and 4) policies that address the power of women.

Starting with the last first, encouraging collective bargaining for workers, encouraging women to take leadership positions in labor unions, encouraging women to run for public office (public funding for elections would help!), and ensuring that more women serve on corporate boards of directors would all increase women’s power.  Policies that address such work-family issues as child care and paid family leave are sorely lacking in the United States, compared with other wealthy nations, and it’s high time we caught up—these policies are likely to increase women’s wages in the long run as they help equalize caregiving between women and men and lead women to invest more in their careers.  Policies that especially bring up the bottom of the labor market have also fallen behind their historic norms:  the minimum wage in real dollars is below where it was in the 1960s.  The current proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to $4.90 per hour (it has been stuck at $2.13 per hour since 1991) is estimated by the White House to narrow the gender wage gap by more than one percentage point. The Obama Administration is also working on increasing the likelihood that those supervisory workers who earn  modest salaries (for example, less than $50,000 per year, 54 percent of whom are women) will be paid  time and a half for their hours worked beyond 40 per week.  Stronger enforcement of the EEO laws we have goes without saying, so that women continue to be able to enter jobs that are currently done mostly by men (men’s jobs).  We could also strengthen the law by making it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who share pay information and requiring employers to pay comparable men’s and women’s jobs equally.

Heidi Hartmann, PhD, is founder and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Putting People First: The Yellen Era Begins at the Fed

by Heidi Hartmann

IWPR President Heidi Hartmann (right) with IMF Managing Director Christine LaGarde and Fed Chair Janet Yellen at Chair Yellen's ceremonial swearing in ceremony in Washington, DC on March 5, 2014.

IWPR President Heidi Hartmann (right) with IMF Managing Director Christine LaGarde (left) and Fed Chair Janet Yellen (center) at Chair Yellen’s ceremonial swearing in ceremony in Washington, DC on March 5, 2014.

Last week, at her ceremonial swearing in at the imposing atrium of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, DC, Janet Yellen gave a remarkable speech.  Short—less than 3 pages double-spaced—it nevertheless conveyed what Chair Yellen brings to the table.

Her remarks began with a few standard points about the mission of the Federal Reserve. In speaking of her own and the Fed’s mission, she promised “to help restore the health of the economy and promote a strong and stable financial system.”  She noted that substantial progress had been made in the past several years, but that much remained to be done to achieve the twin goals of the Federal Reserve—full employment and stable prices. She noted that “the economy continues to operate considerably short of these objectives.”

She moved on to mention the steps the Board has taken to strengthen financial regulation and the steps it will take to implement the Dodd- Frank Act.  She promised to continue former Chairman Bernanke’s movement toward making the Federal Reserve more transparent and accountable through further improving communication with the public.  These remarks echo those by Bernanke in 2010, when he emphasized the need for stronger regulation of the banking system to prevent another crisis and the role of improved communication with the public in restoring the public’s faith in the banking system.

But there were also several parts of the speech that revealed something about where her passions lie and how the Yellen era at the Fed is likely to differ from previous tenures.

Chair Yellen described the oath of office that she had just taken as “a public promise to carry out [her] duties guided by no interest other than the public interest.”

Then, she devoted the second-longest paragraph in her speech to extolling the skills and dedication of the “men and women” on the Fed’s staff, emphasizing their integrity, tireless work, creativity, and perseverance.

Finally, in the climax of her speech she brought home the importance of the Fed’s work to the average American, closing with this promise and an evocative description of what achieving that promise means to an unemployed worker:

“I promise to never forget the individual lives, experiences and challenges that lie behind the statistics we use to gauge the health of the economy. The unemployment rate represents millions of individuals who are eager to work but struggling to provide for themselves and their families.  When we make progress toward our goals, each job that is created lifts this burden for someone who is better equipped to be a good parent, to build a stronger community, and to contribute to a more prosperous nation.”

For me, an economist who has dedicated my life to advancing the status of women, experiencing first-hand Janet Yellen’s elevation to this leadership position—making her arguably the most powerful woman in the world—was deeply moving.

Indeed, the swearing-in ceremony—in which her oath and speech were joyfully acknowledged by cheers and applause from the gathered guests and the many staff members crowding every inch of the Fed’s atrium, balcony and sweeping stairways—epitomized the rationale for the struggle to win such high for places for women.  They often bring a different perspective to leadership, based on a lifetime of difference.  A difference that tends to put people first.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is an economist and president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR President Heidi Hartmann Recognized as a 2014 American Academy of Political and Social Sciences Fellow

by Jennifer Clark and Mallory Mpare

Heidi Hartmann,IWPR is proud to announce that co-founder and President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., has been named a 2014 American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (AAPSS) Fellow. Each year, AAPSS Fellows are elected in recognition of their contributions to improving society through research and public policy.

Reflecting the wide-ranging and interdisciplinary nature of the Academy, this year’s Fellows include economists and psychologists, as well as professionals in communications, education, and public policy. Dr. Hartmann shares this honor with several notable thought leaders, including Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Each Fellowship is named after a distinguished scholar or civic leader who has contributed to The Annals, the bimonthly journal for the Academy’s scholarship. Dr. Hartmann—whose areas of expertise include women and the economy, employment, and pay equity—has been named the 2014 Charlotte Perkins Gilman Fellow. This is an appropriate distinction, as Gilman was a self-taught economist, who wrote a book entitled, Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution at the turn of the century. She is also known for the popular short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which was a best seller of the Feminist Press. There have been 5 other Charlotte Perkins Gilman fellows, including a winner of the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann, a MacArthur fellow, is a leading economist and women’s movement scholar whose work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. In 1987—noting the lack of women-focused, policy-oriented research—she founded IWPR, which is now the leading American think tank informing women’s policy issues. In addition to her recent recognition as an AAPSS Fellow, Dr. Hartmann has received a number of accolades, including honorary degrees from Swarthmore and Claremont Graduate University, the Winn Newman Lifetime Achievement Award for Work on Pay Equity in 2002, and the 2012 Women of Vision Award from the National Organization for Women.

Dr. Hartmann will be inducted as a Fellow on May 8, 2014, in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Equal Pay for Women and a Higher Minimum Wage Will Move the Economy Forward

by Heidi Hartmann

This post originally appeared on Working Economics, the blog of the Economic Policy Institute.

Heidi Hartmann,Yesterday morning, I had the honor of participating in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing, hosted by Leader Nancy Pelosi, in the Cannon House Office Building. Appearing with Lilly Ledbetter—whose story of pay discrimination went all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately resulted in new legislation in 2009 named after her—and Laura Miu, a psychological counselor, who recently experienced pay discrimination, I was able to share recent research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which I lead, and by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the think tank that provides the last word on virtually all topics related to American workers. The briefing attracted 20 members of Congress, including Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Robert Andrews, who co-chair the Steering and Policy Committee, and Representatives Donna Edwards and Doris Matsui, who chair and vice-chair, respectively, the Democratic Women’s Working Group. IWPR’s research was originally released in January when it appeared in the latest Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, produced in partnership with the Center for American Progress. EPI’s research was published as an update in December 2013 of an earlier paper last spring that details the impact of an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

The economic progress women have made in the past five decades is enormous. Women have entered many occupations that had been virtually closed to them, now earn more over their lifetimes, and contribute more to family income and to the economy as a whole than ever before.

But there is still a long way to go. Despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which makes it easier for women to sue for equal pay—avoiding a similar plight as the bill’s namesake, when she learned she was earning vastly unequal pay near the end of her career—progress toward closing the pay gap has stagnated. Since 2000, the wage ratio has remained around 76.5 percent. If trends of the past five decades are projected forward, it will take almost another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity.

Our researchers at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research have shown that if women received pay equal to comparable men, the poverty rate of all working women and their families would fall by half, from 8.1 percent to 3.9 percent. The number of women affected is substantial: 42.5 million working women—about 60 percent of all working women—would receive a pay increase, with the average annual pay increase estimated at $6,251 (including $0 amounts for those who got no raise). Moreover, paying women the same as comparable men would have added an additional $448 billion (equivalent to almost 3 percent of GDP) to the economy in 2012, about the equivalent of adding another state the size of Virginia to the nation.

Raising the minimum wage has been estimated to have a similarly dramatic effect on growing the economy and reducing poverty, especially among women. In a recent research paper, David Cooper at EPI calculates that 27.8 million workers—nearly a fifth of working Americans—would be directly and indirectly affected by an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, across the three years 2014 -2016. These pay increases, Cooper estimated, would result in the GDP increasing by 0.3 percent ($22 billion). Moreover, 85,000 new jobs would be created by the additional spending power of low-wage workers.

Cooper shows that women would constitute 55 percent of the workers affected directly and indirectly by the increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour: 15.3 million women would receive a pay increase. The typical minimum wage worker is 35 years of age and provides half her or his family income. Nearly one-fifth of American children have at least one parent whose earnings would be raised by an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Moreover, unpublished EPI data shows that 2.3 million single mothers, or nearly one-third of all working single mothers, would be directly and indirectly affected by the increase in the federal minimum wage.

The members present at the hearing were eager to hear about the importance of eliminating the gender pay gap and increasing the minimum wage, but they were also intensely interested in the issue of pay secrecy. Lilly Ledbetter explained that she had been told when hired that if she so much as discussed her pay with anyone she would be immediately let go. The members wanted to know how many other people might be affected by pay secrecy. A survey conducted by IWPR in 2010 was the first and (so far as we know), the only survey to look into pay secrecy. The survey found that, like Ledbetter, many workers do not know what their colleagues are being paid and are unlikely to be able to find out. More than 60 percent (62 percent of women, 60 percent of men) of private-sector workers responded that discussing pay at work is either strongly discouraged or prohibited.  By contrast, only 18 percent of female public-sector workers and 11 percent of male public-sector workers reported being discouraged from discussing pay rates or fearing penalties for doing so, and the gender wage gap is much smaller in the public-sector than in the private-sector.

Public policies can combat both unequal pay and low minimum wages. More than half of the states have made pay adjustments in their civil service systems that raise the pay of female-dominated jobs. Firms that contract with local and state governments and the federal government to provide goods and services can be required to meet standards, such as non-retaliation toward workers who share pay information or a higher minimum wage (as President Obama said in the State of the Union speech that he would require of federal contractors), or report their gender wage ratios within job categories, as has been done in New Mexico for state contractors.

The stall in the economic progress of women in the past decade, coupled with the large number of women and families who would benefit from increases in women’s earnings resulting from stronger equal pay remedies and a higher federal minimum wage, make the case that implementing new laws and public policies is urgent. Paying women equally and raising the minimum wage would significantly reduce poverty and boost the growth of the U.S. economy.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is the president and founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.