Breastfeeding + Work, Finally!

This blog post was originally published on The Huffington Post. It has also been posted on Moms Rising.

by Robert Drago, Ph.D.

Progressives have always had mixed emotions about breastfeeding. We support a healthy diet and natural living, and breastfeeding is as natural as it gets. We also have a low tolerance for chemical additives, including those found in infant formula. On the other hand, breastfeeding has been used to oppress women. Feminists recognized this in the 1960s, and labeled infant formula “liberation in a can.” With formula, daddy could get up in the middle of the night for feedings and mom could get some sleep, and the infant could be fed while in child care during the day, so mom could work for pay.

Since then, moms have gone to work in record numbers (see Figure 4), while the U.S. government and advocacy groups have gone on a mission to promote breastfeeding. The movements have clashed and, so far, work seems to have won: we have yet to reach the modest Healthy Families 2010 target of 50 percent of mothers breastfeeding until an infant is at least six months of age.

Some folks actually revel in the clash, hoping to reverse women’s economic gains by sending the message that good mothers opt out of employment (as documented by Pamela Stone). Breastfeeding promotion provides a powerful tool in these efforts.  Of course, when this crowd wins, women become more financially dependent on men: Stephen Rose and Heidi Hartmann found that women’s hourly wages drop 22 percent for even one year out of employment, and drop even more steeply for more time out (see Table 2).

In 1998, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) recognized that this clash was artificial and needless (and arguably less than humane). She began introducing legislation to make work consistent with breastfeeding, and she has introduced the legislation continuously since then. Finally, in 2010, a relevant provision was included in the  Affordable Care Act. Basically, the legislation guarantees employed moms paid on an hourly basis reasonable breaks and a sanitary, private location to express and store breast milk for an infant under the age of one year.

A new report from IWPR (which I co-authored with Jeffrey Hayes and Youngmin Yi), released today, shows who is covered by the law and estimated effects. It turns out that almost 19 million employed women of childbearing age are now covered by the law. Better yet, because it covers hourly (as opposed to salaried) workers, it will help moms with the rigid jobs that have made breastfeeding so difficult in the past (think low-wage, women of color, low levels of education, and young women).  And the bottom line? Over 165,000 new mothers will breastfeed their infants through at least six months, and we will come closer to meeting the Healthy People 2010 goal as a result.

But hold on to your hat because there is another bonus: once mom is expressing and storing milk, dad can get up in the middle of the night and feed the baby. Does it get any better than that?

Dr. Robert Drago, Ph.D., is Research Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Prior to joining IWPR, Dr. Drago held positions as Senior Economist in the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the departments of Women’s Studies and Labor Studies. He has published multiple articles and books, including his latest books Unlevel Playing Fields: Understanding Wage Inequality and Discrimination (3rd Edition) and Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life.

No Time for Snoozing on the DREAM Act

As a vote is pending in the Senate, activists are urgently calling for the bill’s passage.

by Cynthia Hess, Ph.D.

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives did something it had tried unsuccessfully to do in the past: it passed the Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors, or DREAM Act. The House’s action has sparked considerable hope among young immigrant activists, although their struggle is not yet over (the Senate delayed its vote on the DREAM Act last week and is expected to vote this week).

For months DREAM Act activists (whose efforts have often been led by undocumented students, particularly women) have publically marched and demonstrated in Washington to support the bill, risking arrest and deportation. These activists argue that the risk is worth it because if the DREAM Act were to become law, it would have an enormous impact on the lives of many young immigrants. According to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 726,000 unauthorized young adults would immediately be eligible to benefit from its provisions.

Specifically, the DREAM Act would give undocumented youth and young adults who were brought to the United States as children a chance to apply for legal permanent resident status (on a conditional basis) if they are under the age of 35, migrated to the United States before the age of 16, have lived in this country for at least 5 years, and have graduated from high school. Those who go on to successfully complete at least two years of college or military service and show good moral character can have the conditional basis of their status removed.

Activists, service providers, and others working with immigrant communities maintain that the act could not only help immigrant youth and young adults, but also have at least two additional positive effects. First, it would help revive the sagging economy by allowing those who would benefit from the legislation to develop and realize their full potential. Currently, many undocumented youth graduate from high school to find that their immigration status prevents them from attending college or securing a high quality job. This wastes a valuable resource in our economy.

Second, some maintain that the DREAM Act could benefit organizations that provide resources to immigrant communities by expanding their options for hiring individuals who both understand the immigrant community and have the education and legal status that allows them to work with that community. In an interview with researchers from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a service provider in Atlanta, GA said, “A policy that would really help us provide more effective services to the immigrant community is the DREAM Act. We have so many teenagers who are undocumented, and that really stifles their options for the future. And we need to be able to hire people and to be able to go back and serve the community.”

Yet the DREAM Act continues to face stiff opposition from individuals who worry that it could encourage more illegal immigration or lead to the mass migration of families of the act’s beneficiaries (some counter this charge by noting that it would take about 25 years for a DREAM Act beneficiary to secure a green card for their parents, and 30–40 years for their siblings). And so supporters and potential beneficiaries of the proposed legislation anxiously await the Senate’s decision. They realize the urgency of the moment: the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and has been introduced a number of times since then, always without passing the Congress. Some predict that if it fails now, it will have less of a chance with a more conservative Congress in the next session. This leaves many activists and immigrants hoping, once again, that this time victory does not elude them.

Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., is a Study Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is also a frequent contributor to the Social Security Media Watch Project.

How the White House Is Putting Social Security at Risk

This blog post was originally published on New Deal 2.0. It is also published on The Huffington Post.

The payroll tax holiday in Obama’s deal endangers our largest and most loved social program.

By Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D.

In trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, the president’s advisors added a payroll tax holiday to the tax agreement they were working out with the Republicans last weekend. After giving away Bush’s estate and income tax cuts for the uber rich, they sought to get something back, and, they told me, the Republicans would not agree to the refundable aspects of the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, the president’s own signature tax cut initiative included in the 2009 stimulus package.

Earnest White House and Treasury staff members have been assuring various interest groups all week that in negotiating a payroll tax reduction of some 32 percent (a 2 percentage point cut from the worker’s share of 6.2 percent), they meant no harm to the long-term finances of the Social Security system. Not only is the higher tax rate proposed to be reinstated (without requiring a vote) after a year, but the Social Security Trust Fund is made whole by a transfer of like amounts from general revenues all during the year, so the Fund will even earn the same amount of interest it would have from payroll tax receipts. As they came under increasing pressure from Social Security advocates, the White House released a letter on Friday from Social Security’s chief actuary confirming that the Trust Fund would lose no money.

But the Trust Fund is not actually the advocates’ main concern. They’re more worried about being able to get the payroll tax up again in 2012 after the emergency situation of a tanking economy has hopefully passed. The central problem is a political one. Already some Republican members of Congress have said that a move back to 6.2 percent will be seen as a tax increase (in fact, close to a 50 percent increase), always unpopular, especially in an election year. If the payroll tax isn’t raised, squeezing the money out of general revenues every year when Social Security would be competing with all other spending could be extremely difficult, and pressure for benefit cuts would grow. As of now, the American people don’t mind paying the payroll tax: 86 percent said so in a recent survey, so giving them a short-term gift they don’t particularly want and, in exchange, putting the program that is their life support at risk is just a bad deal.

I have no doubt that the staffers working on this who have spoken with me mean well. They carefully explained to me that they set the size of the payroll tax reduction so that a person earning $20,000 per year would get a $400 tax cut, the same as under Making Work Pay; that required a 2 percentage point tax cut, which when aggregated to all workers paying the FICA tax is some $112 billion. They were pleasantly surprised when the Republicans agreed to that large a tax cut, which constitutes significant stimulus to the economy since much of that extra disposable income will be translated into demand for housing, transportation, meals, and so on.

While a payroll tax cut would be good at getting small amounts of money into each paycheck, it has some other less desirable features as stimulus. Most importantly, a lot of it goes to high-income people who tend to hold onto added income. Everyone earning more than $106,800 per year (the maximum salary on which workers will pay FICA tax in 2011) will get the full $2,136 reduction, including members of Congress, the president, Wall Street traders, and top managers across the country, and many of these high earners will save rather than spend their extra income.

Under Making Work Pay, every person with earnings of at least $6,451 got the maximum credit of $400 and married couples with earnings of at least $12,903 got the maximum couples credit of $800 (whether one or both worked). These credits started phasing out at $75,00 for singles and $150,000 for couples, and no one earning more than $95,000 ($190,000 for couples) received anything at all. For low-income people who owed no federal income taxes, the credits were refundable, so an eligible person or couple received a check from the government. With a payroll tax reduction, every individual making less than $20,000 and every married couple earning less than $40,000 (roughly 40 million workers in total) would get less than they would under a Making Work Pay extension, but the payroll tax rebate at least gives them something back. Since Republican opposition to refundability would have left many low-income people with nothing had the income tax been used as the delivery mechanism, the payroll tax cut seemed like the better alternative to White House staffers concerned about low earners.

What is most troubling now is that even though the risk to Social Security has been pointed out to the White House, these same staffers continue to insist that the rebate must take the form of a payroll tax cut delivered in every paycheck in 2011 and that other alternatives won’t do. For example, Congressman Brad Sherman has suggested issuing a rebate check to each worker early in 2011 for 2 percentage points of the 6.2 percent FICA tax each paid in 2010. Dollar-wise, that’s essentially the same as giving workers 2 percentage points in 2011. Sure, there will be more workers in 2011 (if we’re lucky and get some employment growth), but they could be included by issuing rebate checks early in 2012 based on what they earned in 2011. Also, even though research shows that lump sums aren’t spent as readily as smaller amounts, the portion spent after 3-6 months is quite substantial. And since we will need stimulus all through 2011, the difference between these two distribution systems can’t be so great as to make the Sherman alternative totally unacceptable to the White House — when it has the very important advantage of never reducing the payroll tax rate to 4.2 percent and so never having to figure out how to get it back up to 6.2 percent. While Sherman’s proposal virtually mimics the payroll tax cut, Nancy Altman, co-chair of Social Security Works and a leading advocate against the payroll tax rate cut, suggests a more progressive alternative, one that would likely increase the stimulative value of the tax cut — an identical lump sum to every worker who paid FICA tax. Such a method would direct more dollars toward lower earners (the average benefits would be on the order of $800) and therefore generate more spending.

Many people are becoming aware of the dangers to Social Security from a cut in its tax rate — phone calls, organized by groups like NOW and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, have been pouring into Congress and the White House. For sake of Social Security and the millions of women and men who depend upon it, I hope Congress will be able to negotiate a change in the agreement. Since the payroll tax cut is viewed as a Democratic win, the Republicans should not object to whatever mechanism the Democrats choose to deliver the same amount of funds. Of course, it would be better for all if the White House would just do the right thing and stop insisting on a payroll rate reduction.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is an economist and the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a scientific research organization that she founded in 1987 to meet the need for women-centered, policy-oriented research. She has published numerous articles in journals and books, and her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

The Promise of Postsecondary Education for Parents

by Robert Drago, Ph.D.

Education, and particularly higher education, provides many individuals with hope for a better future. The power of this simple truism was brought home  to me while working on Striking a Balance, when I discovered that the union for hotel workers in San Francisco (HERE Local 2) had developed a scholarship program to fund prep courses for college admissions tests. The catch? The program was for the daughters and sons of union members, and not the members themselves. The members are mainly immigrant women, and their vision for a brighter future involves higher education for their children.

A new fact sheet from IWPR describes a related group—students who are also parents. Anyone who has been a parent knows that it is a lot of work, especially when children are young. To make a commitment to higher education at the same time is nothing short of heroic. And those who do so are not starting on a level playing field: compared to non-parent students, the student parents have lower average college admissions test scores, are less likely to have received four years of English courses in high school, and more often take remedial courses, with each of these disadvantages being most pronounced for single parents. The student parents are also likely to come from families in which their own parents had not received an advanced degree, so have fewer academic role models. And just to top it off, the student parents are around twice as likely as the non-parents to work for pay at least 40 hours per week (over 40 percent of single and married parents do this).

Not surprisingly, this story has the same gender twist found in HERE Local 2: three-quarters of single parents in college are women, and single mothers are twice as likely to report spending at least 30 hours per week caring for dependents.

I don’t envy those who take on the triple burden of parenting, school and full-time employment. But I do understand why they voluntarily make such extraordinary commitments. Like the members of HERE Local 2, higher education offers the student parents hope for a brighter future—for themselves and their children. They deserve our applause and support.

Robert Drago, Ph.D., is the Director of Research with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.