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It’s not all that surprising to find in a new report by the Center for Economic Policy Research that North Carolina is ranked pretty low in the nation for unionization rates. We are a Southern right-to-work state, afterall. But it’s still fairly remarkable that we were beat out by all of our Southern neighbors by sliding in at 50th in the nation, with 4.1% of North Carolina’s employees represented by a union. In Alabama, 10.9% of the total workforce is a member in a union. And of course, at the top end of the spectrum, over a quarter of the workforce is unionized in New York.

But perhaps more importantly, the report analyzes the union advantage—the difference in wages and benefits between non-union workers and those represented in unions.

The report confirms the obvious: that union workers consistently and substantially earn higher wages, are much more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan than non-union workers. Case in point that in North Carolina the average union worker earns more than $4 per hour than a non-union worker.

The union advantage for the Old North State ends up being:
• 14.8% advantage in wages
• 12.3% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance
• 10.7% more likely to have an employer-provided retirement plan.

A sure sign that policies that ease barriers to unionization in North Carolina and around the country are a critical strategy to growing good quality jobs.

A new report from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities found that the Economic Recovery Act (ARRA) has served as an economic tourniquet of sorts in keeping at least 200,000 North Carolinians from living in poverty this year.

Provisions like increased food stamp benefits, the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, unemployment insurance extensions, and expansions of current tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit have proved critical to the thousands of North Carolinians struggling in this Great Recession.

But the Recovery Act is doing more than just stopping the bleeding—it’s also significantly boosted economic activity and preserved or created thousands of jobs. In other words, it’s helping us heal.

President Obama talked up paid sick days on the campaign trail leading up to his election and the First Lady has discussed paid sick leave, as well as broader work and family balance issues, on multiple occasions.

But we had yet to hear a clear signal from the new Obama Administration on where they stood on federal legislation that would guarantee all workers a basic number of paid sick days to care for themselves or a sick family member.

Today the signal came loud and clear, from the Deputy Secretary of the Labor Department, Seth Harris. As Matthew Yglesias notes in his blog over at Think Progress, Mr. Harris presented testimony on the Healthy Families Act and said:

In conclusion, it is clear that while much has been done to help prepare for a national health emergency like 2009 H1N1, more is needed to help protect the economic security of working families who must choose between a pay check and their health and the health of their families. That is why the Administration supports the Healthy Families Act and other proposals that advance workplace flexibility and protect the income and security of workers. I appreciate your time today, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

I wouldn’t wish a flu pandemic on anyone but if that’s what it takes to put paid sick days on the agenda, I’ll take it.

Rather unfortunately for those of us who care about the English language, “mancession” is seemingly all the rage. Google it and you get more than 75,000 results. Everybody’s talking about how men are hit hardest by the recession.

And the logical extension seems to be that women are just rocking it. The Times of London goes to so far to scream in a headline that “Gender roles are being rewritten in America as men bear the brunt of job losses”.

But let’s hold on a minute before we create another heinous term such as “femcovery”. True, if you look at one economic indicator, the unemployment rate, the gender gap in unemployment is at 2.5% nationally, with men facing 10.5% unemployment and women experiencing 8% jobless rates.

That means that men have been losing more jobs proportionally than women during this recession. But that doesn’t mean that women are living it up right now. To state the obvious: women are still experiencing an 8% unemployment rate.

And then let’s think about the more structural issues that the unemployment rate doesn’t tell us. A majority of the job losses in this recession have occurred in industries dominated by men, including construction and manufacturing. Nine out of ten construction workers are male, and seven out of ten manufacturing workers are men. Those sectors alone have lost more than 2.5 million jobs.

It’s not that women are trying to avoid sectors like construction, remember. These industries have long closed themselves off to women entering their ranks. That is, there’s an institutional barrier preventing women from entering the very sectors that are hemorrhaging the most jobs (although I guess it’s an instance of luck now for those women who tried to break through the plywood ceiling).

Women typically dominate sectors such as retail, hospitality, nonprofits, education and healthcare, most of which have been some of the few industries to experience job growth in the last several years.

But they are also some of the industries with the lowest pay. And then compound that with the fact that women still only make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes in the same job.

So women may be proportionally holding on to their jobs more than men right now but they’re still scraping by in low-end jobs with few benefits and meager pay. Of course any job is better than no job right now but that doesn’t mean we can declare gender disparities in the workforce a struggle of the past.

I’ve banged the drum here before and in other places about the public health impact of paid sick days. Particularly now that we have the H1N1 outbreak on our hands and half of North Carolina’s workers lack a single paid sick day.

Now Jeffrey Levi, the Executive Director of the Trust for America’s Health, the nation’s preeminent disease prevention advocate, has weighed in over at the Huffington Post. In his post titled “Even a Mild Outbreak is a Major Problem for Workers Without Paid Sick Days”, Levi makes a number of good points, including:

The fact that tens of millions of Americans do not have any paid sick days is a sad state of affairs in normal times. In a pandemic so ubiquitous it’s worthy of being named a national emergency by the President of the United States, it’s foolhardy.

Levi’s had a distinguished public health career, including serving as the Associate Editor of the American Journal of Public Health, a top advisor at the White House on AIDS policy, and currently teaches Health Policy at George Washington University.

In short, the man knows what he’s talking about. Now let’s listen to him and commit ourselves to passing legislation that would guarantee all workers a modest number of paid sick days.