Two-thirds of Americans support minimum wage increase

With the way some talk has been going lately, it seems the Great Recession has offered up an excuse to promote the short-sighted mentality of “any job is better than no job”. Politicians and pundits alike claim that this is what Americans are thinking right now and as a result, how public policies should respond (Exhibit A: business incentives to create low-wage jobs).

Except that a new poll released today by the National Employment Law Project shows that Americans overwhelmingly want to support jobs that pay decent wages. Sixty seven percent of them support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, and automatically adjusting or “indexing” it each year so that it keeps pace with the cost of living.

The federal minimum wage now stands at $7.25, which works out to an annual salary of $15,000 per year. As a reminder, the official federal poverty guideline for a 3-person family is $18,310 per year so it’s not a stretch to say that today’s minimum wage is literally a poverty wage.

That’s not to mention the fact that the minimum wage has significantly eroded over time and hasn’t kept up with inflation, or in other words, what it actually takes to get by, put food on the table, and put gas in the car. Today’s minimum wage would be over $10.00 per hour if it kept pace with the cost of living over the past forty years.

Finally, we should remember, particularly in the today’s economic context, that increasing the minimum wage spurs economic activity. It makes sense—you get a slightly larger paycheck and where do you spend it? In your local economy. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that last year’s 70 cent increase in the minimum wage generated $5.5 billion in economic spending.

Want to aid struggling workers who’ve patched together part-time jobs to keep afloat in this recession and spur the economy at the same time? It doesn’t always take a new flashy idea. An adequate minimum wage will do it too.

Local business leader speaks out in support of universal child care

There’s reams of sound, evidenced-based research out there that links school-readiness, performance, family economic security, and the achievement gap with access to quality childcare.

But it’s not everyday that you hear a passionate plea for universal child care coming from the business community.

That’s exactly what Reyn Bowman, the former CEO of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau for more than 20 years did today in a common-sense Op-Ed in the Durham Herald Sun.

Bowman makes a potent argument against those who typically judge and stereotype low-income parents for their struggles to make ends meet and move up the economic ladder and insists that we as a community and society should do more to make work supports available to such parents, not only for moral reasons but for economic reasons too.

Specifically, Bowman makes the case for expanding access to child care and after-school opportunities to increase employee productivity and reduce the achievement gap. In his words:

Here are just three of many pragmatic reasons why I believe the need for universal childcare/after-school care, especially for single-parent households, is about much more than just household expenses:

–It is pivotal to productivity in the workplace. Working parents must be assured their children are in good hands in order to flex with the demands of the workplace — and the workplace needs single parents.

–It is vital to mental and emotional well-being. Single parents in particular rarely have the backstop caregivers and they need respite so they can function both as good parents at home and good employees in the workplace.

–Most important, it is absolutely critical to closing the achievement or student performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children, something crucial both for humanitarian and economic reasons.

Those are some common-sense arguments that deserve hearty consideration from local and state policymakers.

And for those who continue to lob accusations like “laziness” upon hard-working low-income families, Bowman has these words for you:

We can either stay preoccupied with judging and stereotyping people we don’t know and circumstances we know nothing about, or we can make things more productive at work, in the home, in school and in society.

Well said.

DOL recognizes that nuclear families are exception, not rule

Long gone are the days when families in the U.S. typically consisted of a Mom, Dad, and a couple of kids.

These days, grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-parents, and domestic partners are often serving the role of “parent”.

Unfortunately, government policies have been slow to keep up with these shifts in the American family and caregiving roles, despite overwhelming support for policy change.

But slowly, change is a-coming. Just yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor issued new interpretation of what a parent means in the context of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). DOL’s new interpretation means that those serving “in loco parentis”–including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and domestic partners–can access the job-protected leave provided by FMLA to care for a sick family member.

As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis so eloquently put it:

“No one who loves and nurtures a child day-in and day-out should be unable to care for that child when he or she falls ill. No one who steps in to parent a child when that child’s biological parents are absent or incapacitated should be denied leave by an employer because he or she is not the legal guardian. No one who intends to raise a child should be denied the opportunity to be present when that child is born simply because the state or an employer fails to recognize his or her relationship with the biological parent. These are just a few of many possible scenarios. The Labor Department’s action today sends a clear message to workers and employers alike: All families, including LGBT families, are protected by the FMLA.”

Particularly as families are struggling to juggle caregiving needs with the demands of their jobs in this recession, this is a positive step by the Obama Adminstration.

However, it is a step and just that. What families really need is a range of family-friendly workplace policies to aid them in balancing work and family, including paid sick days, paid family and medical leave and workplace flexibility.

Moms need more than roses

Ok, roses are lovely. I don’t mean to imply that moms shouldn’t get roses for Mother’s Day. But roses are pretty and just that.

Roses can’t cover up the fact that women still don’t earn nearly what men do for the same work. Roses aren’t a substitute for the fact that there’s no law on the books that guarantees working moms a single paid sick day to care for their sick child or parent. And roses certainly won’t help new moms who don’t have access to or any right to paid maternity leave to spend needed time with their newborn.

So on the occasion of this Mother’s Day, I’d like offer up some suggestions to our members of Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly on how they can truly honor working mothers.

To Congress (well, actually members of the U.S. Senate)—how about commemorating Mother’s Day by finally taking up the languishing Paycheck Fairness Act? The House has already done its job in passing this much-needed legislation that would update the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 and deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the EPA and ban retaliation against workers who disclose their wages. The Paycheck Fairness Act is one of the only federal remedies out there right now that would dramatically help close the gender wage gap. Or rather, address the fact that women still make only 77 cents to every man’s dollar.

To the NC General Assembly—what about taking a stand for working North Carolininans that are struggling to balance work and family? What about supporting and passing a modest standard that would guarantee all workers in the state a couple of paid sick days annually to care for themselves or a sick family member? Moms especially are now playing the role of breadwinner and caretaker. They need help in caring for their children. And this widespread lack of paid sick days hurts our economy–“presenteeism”, when workers come to work sick, costs our economy $180 billion annually. The Healthy Families and Healthy Workplaces Act would provide the 1.6 million North Carolina workers that don’t have access to a single paid sick day with some measure of economic security in today’s economy.

And finally, both Congress and the NC General Assembly need to start grappling with the fact that having a baby is a leading cause of a “poverty spell” in the United States. Over half of new moms lack any type of paid leave to care for a newborn. And when paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality by 20%, maybe it’s time to start thinking about making paid family leave real in our country.

Happy Mother’s Day Momma!

Anger and Despair

This bleak gray morning is fitting for the residual anger and despair I’m feeling after sitting through the nearly seven hour open portion of the Wake County School Board meeting last night.

Anger that the majority—the Gang of Five—jammed through their yet-to-be-seen resolution to begin dismantling Wake County’s diversity policy in favor of “community zones” that will likely result in a slew of more school reassignments and an increase in high poverty schools.

Anger that the majority did so in the most flagrant display of arrogance and disregard for transparency and due process that I have ever witnessed in my years of observing policy-making.

Anger that the majority passed a sweeping resolution without any fiscal analysis of their community zones plan yet suddenly became fiscal hawks in the same meeting, quibbling over approving construction for a new elementary school that was already delayed three years and had gone through a lengthy approval and budgeting process.

Despair that even with pro-diversity speakers at the public meeting outnumbering opponents by nearly eight to one, it didn’t make a difference.

Despair that even with 94.8% of Wake County parents expressing satisfaction with their children’s’ schools in a recent parent survey, that’s apparently not enough satisfaction.

Despair that a “majority” actually only represents, based on the number of votes that won them their seats:

–18% of the Wake County student population
–4% of the total number of Wake County registered voters
–2% of the total Wake County population.

Despair that we have to wait until 2011 to even begin changing the School Board’s makeup as Chair Margiotta is the only member of the majority up for re-election before 2013.

And I could go on. But I do have a glimmer of hope in the fact that I know I’m not the only one heavy with anger and despair this morning. There are thousands of us across Wake County, who’ve been through these schools and have children in these schools. And if we were sleeping before, we’re awake now.