By Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women, National Women's Law Center
Cross-posted from NWLC's blog
In last night’s State of the Union speech President Obama described how women are hit hard by growing income inequality in America. He's right. Women make up 60% of those workers in jobs paying under $10.10 an hour – jobs like home health aide, child care worker, and cashier. Sixty percent of the job gains by women in the recovery were in the 10 largest low-wage jobs, as compared to 20% for men. And in jobs with the largest projected job growth over the next decade, almost half are low-wage and nearly two-thirds are female-dominated.
But it's not just the wages in these jobs that are unequal. It's also the working conditions and especially the work and family conditions – including abusive scheduling practices, lack of paid leave and paid sick days and the overall mistreatment of workers who are pregnant or have caregiving needs.
Pregnant workers who have requested minor job accommodations during pregnancy have been forced off the job instead. A pregnant food service worker had so little control over her own destiny at work that she was required to ask for breaks to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water – even though her coworkers weren’t – and when she did ask, she was yelled at and sometimes her requests were denied. She was later fired after she asked for time off to attend a prenatal appointment.
Abusive scheduling practices are also common among workers in low-wage jobs. Workers who get their schedules with only one or two days' notice struggle to cobble together child care, juggle a second job, or make it to the class they're trying to attend so that they can move up into a higher-paying job. Some workers are never assigned any hours on the schedule at all. These workers have to go online after everyone else's schedule has been assigned and try to bid for whatever hours might be left. It's a virtual breadline for hours.
And the number of workers in low-wage jobs working part-time involuntarily is a major cause for concern. By our count, involuntary part-time work is more than three-and-a-half times greater among low-wage workers than among workers overall.
Nearly one in five families today is headed by a single working mom, like Amanda Shelley, the physician assistant whom President Obama mentioned in his speech. For single working moms, in particular, pregnancy discrimination, lack of paid sick days and leave, and abusive work schedules are all job busters they cannot afford to encounter.
I share President Obama’s vision of “the America we want for our kids -- a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us.”
Achieving that America means fighting back against growing income inequality with all our might. But it also means fighting back against the unequal work and family conditions that sabotage too many workers’ best efforts to get ahead.