Report: Obama Can Act to Reduce Inequality for Women, Minorities


A new report says that the federal government is the largest funder of low-wage jobs for working women and people of color, and that President Obama should take executive action to help lift them into the middle class.

The report, Underwriting Good Jobs, details how 8 million workers and their families, or more than 20 million Americans overall, depend on low-wage jobs that are significantly funded by taxpayer dollars. A disproportionate number of those low-wage employees are women (71 percent) and minorities (44 percent).

“Today, addressing the needs of women in the workplace means addressing the needs of low-wage workers,” Liz Watson, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said during a press call accompanying the report’s release. Poverty-level wages and difficult working conditions such as pregnancy discrimination, lack of paid sick leave to care for family members, and unpredictable schedules, Watson said, “not only hurt women, they also hurt the families who are dependent on them.”

Monica Martinez, a working mother of two who makes $12 an hour serving food at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and also holds a second job, said she is grateful to the president for raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, but that it’s “not enough for working moms like me.” She struggles to afford college tuition for one child, and said that benefits like paid sick days and the right to form a union could empower her to leave her second job and spend more time with her kids.

The middle class is shrinking, most income gains are going to the top 1 percent, and tens of millions of Americans face stagnating wages and a “crisis of living standards,” according to the report. President Obama’s recent executive orders that addressed the gender wage gap and raised the minimum wage in new federal contracts to $10.10 an hour starting in 2015 were important first steps, the authors said. But a “bolder course of action” is needed to lift more Americans, especially women and minorities and their families, out of poverty and into the middle class.

Because the $1.3 trillion “federal footprint” of spending in the private sector is so big, the report says, and because so many private companies depend on the federal government for at least 10 percent of their revenues, a federal “Good Jobs Policy” would incentivize private companies to do better by their workers if they want to effectively compete for federal contracts. If the president ordered such a policy through executive action, agencies would incorporate the policy in their decisions to award and evaluate federal contracts and other spending.

Such a policy, the report says, should favor companies that respect employees’ right to collectively bargain; offer living wages, health care, paid sick leave, and predictable work schedules; comply with workplace protection laws; and limit executive compensation to 50 times the median worker’s salary.

Implementing these policies, the report said, would be hugely beneficial both to workers and to the U.S. economy. Those 20 million people dependent on low-wage, taxpayer-supported jobs could see their standard of living increase by 20 percent. Moreover, GDP would grow by $31 billion annually, and because more people would be lifted out of poverty, the federal government would save billions on programs like Medicaid, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps), and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Most of the industries that the report deems “federally dependent,” or that make at least 10 percent of their revenue from the government, employ people like nurses, home health-care workers, janitors, landscapers, security guards, cashiers, and sales associates.

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