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Women and Work in the News

Our current cover story, Different Anti-Poverty Programs, Same Single-Mother Poverty, by long-time D&S author and UMass-Boston economist Randy Albelda, is turning out to be especially timely, as a spate of stories about women and work have been in the news. (The image above is the cartoon Barry Deutsch did for our upcoming March/April issue;  Barry did the beautiful drawings for our Jan/Feb cover and Randy’s article).

For starters, there was the great announcement that New York City’s hotel workers won a contract giving them a raise (29% over the seven years of the contract), better benefits, and a “panic-button” for the Dominique Strauss-Kahn-type dangers they face. See the New York Times article on the new contract, For New York Hotel Staff, Panic Buttons and Big Raises.  (In case you haven’t heard, Strauss-Kahn was detained and questioned as part of an inquiry into a prostitution ring; here’s the BBC report on it.) Our pal Mark Engler has a great post at the Dissent blog “Arguing the World” about Why the $60,000-per-year Housekeeper Is a Right-Wing Nightmare. As Mark points out (as did Nathan Newman at HuffPo, but we try not to cross the picket-line), Fox News bent over backwards, in the debate about the so-called “Bush-era tax cuts” (I say “so-called” because we’re still in the Bush era, right?), to claim that people making $250K/year are just scraping by in places like NYC; yet Fox commentators referred to the prospect of housekeepers making $60K in NYC as a “nightmare” (here’s the clip), and not because it would be hard to live on $60K in NYC!

If housekeepers in New York City will be getting a much-needed raise, women working in the restaurant industry are not doing so well, according to a new report by ROC-United.  This is from a recent blog post by Linda Meric, executive director of 9to5 (the National Association of Working Women):

The woman serving you your meal tonight may not be earning enough to feed herself.  The recently released Restaurant Opportunities Centers United report “Tipped Over,” found that seven of the ten lowest-paid occupations are in the restaurant industry which employs 10 million workers, the majority of them women.  In addition to earning low and poverty-level wages, women restaurant workers experience discrimination, sexual harassment, occupational segregation, and lack of paid sick days and career mobility.

Documenting the exploitation and sanctioned discriminatory practices leveled by the restaurant industry against its tipped workers, this ground-breaking report clearly articulates the need to raise the tipped minimum wage to elevate the dignity and quality of life of all working families.

The federal tipped minimum wage has been frozen at $2.13 an hour for two decades.  As many as a third of all U.S. workers – 35 to 46 million people – hold low-wage jobs that offer few prospects for advancement or wage growth. Women and women of color are particularly hard hit.

Read the original post.  ROC-United grew out of the Restaurant Opportunities Center-NY (ROC-NY), which has since spread across the country. One of the co-founders of ROC-NY, Saru Jayaraman, spoke at one of  D&S‘s 35th anniversary parties in NYC back in 2009.  ROC does great work on behalf of some of the worst-paid workers in the country, in one of the fastest-growing industries.

There were two other recent Times articles that related to Randy’s piece on fifteen years of welfare reform.  One was about the rise in single motherhood in recent years:  For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside of Marriage.  The article makes this claim:  “Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree…” But is it the case that white women in their 20s with no four-year degree are not poor? The rest of the article makes the Times‘ claim seem like a non-sequitur.  For example:

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.

“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

If you can only afford to get married if you’ve got a college degree, it sounds like not having one makes you poor (maybe especially if you’re a woman, if the ROC study is right). Contrast this take on single motherhood with David Brooks’ column today, which cheerfully celebrates the trend of people not getting married as a sign of affluence. Hmmm…

The other recent NYT article that relates to Randy’s is the one about how “middle class” people–including some who are anti-government Tea Party types–are more and more often recipients of “safety net” programs:  Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out recently, this isn’t because the safety net has become more expansive, but because people have gotten poorer and more economically insecure.

One last (and jaw-dropping) item related to poverty and low-wage workers:  from TruthOut, a piece by Mike Elk of In These Times about legislation making its way through the Florida legislature:  All Politics Aren’t Local: Florida GOP Wants to Block Local Government from Enforcing Wage and Hour Laws. Huh?  Why is this?  Well it seems that living-wage activists succeeded in getting legislation passed in Dade County to combat wage theft:  “In November 2010, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and a number of other groups successfully advocated for the Miami-Dade County Wage Theft Ordinance, considered by many to be a model wage theft law for the rest of the country.   Since then, more than $1 million in stolen wages have been recovered for nearly 500 workers, and there is another $1.5 million in pending claims that workers are waiting to receive.”  The legislature and its friends in the Florida Retail Federation want to put a stop to this nonsense.

Now, where do people get the idea that politicians are bought and sold by business interests?

–Chris Sturr



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