Commentary

Report: Millions of NC workers excluded from federal paid sick days protections as COVID-19 spreads

Millions of North Carolina workers, especially women and workers of color, still lack federally guaranteed paid sick days protections as COVID-19 spreads, despite recent federal action to slow the spread of the pandemic.

As a result, significant swaths of the North Carolina workforce are forced to choose to between earning their paycheck and keeping themselves, their families, and their coworkers healthy, even as COVID continues to spread, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center.

Even more troubling, the lack of guaranteed paid sick days coverage for so many North Carolina workers could prove disastrous if policymakers move to open the economy too quickly, as it will directly encourage sick workers to return to work and possibly spread the contagion.

Given the intensely infectious nature of the new coronavirus, paid sick days play an essential role in halting the spread of the disease by allowing workers to take time away from work without losing wages. Paid sick leave has long been recognized as a key tool that helps reduce the spread of contagious illnesses in the workplace — sparing coworkers and customers alike—and now more than ever working people need this tool to keep themselves safe on the job.

Yet recent federal action on this has fallen significantly short of what the moment requires, according to the report:

The paid sick days provisions included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and recent U.S. Department of Labor rules implementing the law have left between 58% and 83% of the state’s workforce—as many as 3 million North Carolina workers—without access to guaranteed paid sick days protections in the federal legislation. Here’s why: Read more

Commentary, COVID-19

What the Families First Coronavirus Response Act does (and doesn’t do) for working people

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed (and President Trump signed) the second of at least three anticipated emergency packages designed to respond to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus.

In line with the version passed by the House on Tuesday, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides working people with critical support and protections to weather the crisis, yet the package left several gaping holes that place workers at risk and should be addressed in future measures.

Here’s what the bill does and doesn’t do for working people:

  • Provides coverage for COVID-19 testing for all workers, even those without health insurance, and boosts assistance for state Medicaid programs. Once more tests become available, the bill ensures that workers without health insurance will still be able to receive the test — a critical step to ensuring mass testing, which most public health experts agree is essential to stopping spread of the virus.
    Additionally, the package increases federal support to state Medicaid programs by 6.2%. This will mean that the federal government will provide North Carolina with an estimated $900 million to cover health care services for those currently enrolled in Medicaid.
  • Extends emergency unemployment insurance. The package provides an immediate $1 billion to the states to support an anticipated massive surge in jobless claims over the next few months. In addition, $500 million is targeted to states that have already have an exceptionally low rate of unemployed people participating the program. Given that North Carolina has lowest participation rate in the country (9.8%), our workers will especially benefit from this provision. The bill also includes $500 million to support state unemployment insurance administrative actions to combat the crisis, including waiving work-search requirements and waiting periods.
  • Provides emergency paid sick days and paid family leave to some workers. At the heart of the Families First bill lies the recognition that requiring sick employees to come to work will only hasten the spread of the virus to their co-workers and customers. As a result, the bill provides 80 hours of paid sick leave to all public employees and many private sector workers to care for themselves, family members, and deal with quarantine, school closures, and self-isolation.
  • Unfortunately, however, the bill fails to extend paid sick days protections to enough workers due to two critical loopholes. First, the nation’s largest employers— those with more than 500 workers (think Amazon, McDonalds, and Walmart) are excluded from the requirement to provide paid sick days to their employees. Read more
Commentary

New report: How to make youth apprenticeships work and boost NC’s economy

Youth apprenticeships are increasingly seen as a promising solution to a broken workforce development pipeline that too often fails to connect working people—especially young adults and people of color—to the training and the jobs they need. But to truly live up to their promise, apprenticeship programs for youth and young adults must be made more effective at reducing barriers to participation and completion, especially for students of color, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center.

Youth apprenticeships are paid, structured programs that prepare high school students, recent graduates, and young adults for a technical trade or occupation. They typically involve paid on-the-job training, related classroom-based instruction, a progressive pay scale with wages increasing each year as the apprentices learn, a national Journeyman certificate, and—in North Carolina—a free associate degree at a local community college.

To understand the barriers facing youth apprenticeship completion, the study examines a consortium of county-level, locally led apprenticeship programs belonging to the Eastern Triad Workforce Initiative (ETWI), located in central North Carolina—a national model for apprenticeships for youth and young adults. This regional collaborative includes individual apprenticeship programs in four counties—Alamance, Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham.

The report finds 68 unique barriers present collectively across the entire ETWI relating to program design and interactions with parents, employers, high schools, and community colleges. This includes 32 barriers specifically hindering students of color. At the same time, however, the study finds program partners and employers aggressively adapted their strategies to address many of these barriers as they arose.

Specific findings include:

  • Improving completion outcomes for apprentices of color involves getting the pipeline right for everyone and removing the special barriers that affect apprentices of color in particular. This involves designing an apprenticeship pipeline with all the major components—high school recruitment, student participation in pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships with the same employer, opportunity to complete an associate degree at a local community college, and above all, local employer participation and leadership. Without these pieces, students will fall out of a broken apprenticeship pipeline.
  • Getting the pipeline right for apprentices of color means correcting for inequities in access to existing supports and systems. High school students of color may never enter the apprenticeship program due to parental skepticism of non-four-year degree options and historical exclusion from trades and manufacturing, or because of lack of intentional engagement and implicit biases among career counseling staff and employers keep these students from accessing these opportunities. Additionally, students from low-income families may face financial barriers to purchasing the equipment, transportation, and course materials they need to complete the program. Read more
Commentary

How far short does women’s pay still fall? This far.

Yesterday was Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day that women’s wages catch up to what their white, male counterparts earned last year.

Yes, that’s correct. It’s now April 2019, and it’s taken 15 months for women to earn what a white man earned by December of last year doing the same exact job. That’s because women earn just 85 cents for every dollar earned by white men with the same level of education and experience.

And it’s even worse for women of color. Black women earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, Native American women earn 58 cents on the dollar, Latinx women earn just 53 cents on the dollar, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women it earn just 62 cents on the dollar.

Looking at a year’s paycheck, it takes Black women almost 20 months, Native American women 21 months, and Latina women 23 months to earn what white men earn in just 12.

And at the rate we’re going, it will take until another 40 years for all women to catch up to men’s paychecks. Shockingly, Latina women won’t achieve equal pay until 2248!

The women’s pay gap is not just unfair, it’s also hurting our economy. Despite making up less than half of North Carolina’s workforce, women are over-represented in minimum wage and low-wage work. Women in North Carolina are 47.8 percent of the workforce, but 67.9% of those making $11.50 or less per hour.  In fact, women in North Carolina are more than twice as likely to work in a low-wage job compared to a man.

When women earn more money, they have more to spend on themselves and their families—and that means more customers and more sales for businesses. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study found that eliminating this pay gap would boost the economy by as much as $28 trillion by 2025. And unlike trying to grow the economy cutting taxes for millionaires (which only helps the millionaires), pay equity grows the economy in a way that broadly shares the benefits of that growth, especially among the low- and middle-income women who would experience the biggest raises.

Although North Carolina can address pay equity through policies like tightening anti-discrimination laws and improving childcare subsidies, perhaps the biggest step the state can take involves raising the minimum wage. More than 830,000 women would see an average raise of about $4,411 every year from seeing the minimum wage rise to $15 an hour.

Achieving pay equity is critical—no one should have to wait 40 years to earn the same as a man for the same day’s work.

Commentary

New report: Raising the minimum is good for everyone in NC

Raising the minimum wage in North Carolina will provide families with bigger paychecks, create more good jobs, and build thriving communities, all without hurting employment, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center.

North Carolina’s current wage floor is identical to the nation’s at $7.25 an hour, but legislators have introduced a plan that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. A new report from the NC Justice Center finds that this bold effort to improve wages will benefit working people, businesses, and communities. Specific findings include:

  • Raising the minimum wage is necessary because median wages in North Carolina have actually dropped by 10 cents an hour over the past ten years, from $1,681 an hour in 2008 to $1,781 in 2018.
  • This plan would boost paychecks for almost 1.6 million working people, giving each of them a raise of $4,422 per year, and a combined $7 billion for all workers across the state.
  • It doesn’t just affect teenagers—it helps adult workers and parents who rely on minimum wage jobs to support their families. More than 93% of people who will receive the raise are older than 20, and more than 765,000 children have parents who will benefit. Half of all single parents and a quarter of all married parents will see a raise.
  • Raising the minimum wage will create thousands of good jobs by transforming low-wage jobs into good-paying, family supporting jobs. For example, more than 260,000 retail workers would see their paychecks grow by $4,100 and 160,000 people working in the food services industry would receive almost $6,000 more every year.
  • Raising the minimum wage will not increase joblessness or unemployment. Looking just at the 18 states that raised their minimum wage to take effect January 1, 2018, those states had identical employment growth and unemployment over 2018 when compared to states that did not raise their wage floor. This finding is similar to rigorous academic studies by professional economists.
  • The plan creates an unparalleled opportunity for bringing historically marginalized communities into the mainstream economy. Almost half a million African American workers and a quarter million Latinx workers would benefit—largely because of the plan’s elimination of discriminatory provisions that exclude domestic workers, agricultural workers, and tipped employees from full minimum wage protections. Historically, these types of discriminatory barriers have held back overall economic performance, so including these marginalized working people will help boost economic growth.

Raising minimum creates good jobs, it doesn’t kill them. More than 30 states have raised their minimum wages in the last decade, yet mass job loss and unemployment have never occurred. Job growth and unemployment are the same in the states that raised their wages for 2018 compared to those that that didn’t. That’s one big why raising the minimum wage is good for the economy.

The full report can be found here.