Thursday, March 3, 2011

International Human Rights Agency Calls Out U.S. on Workplace Abuse

A week after the international Human Rights Watch came out with a scathing report on the USA’s abysmal lack of paid family leave policies in the workplace, the Obama Administration unveiled its own report revealing that women are still being paid only about 80 cents to a man’s dollar. And what is our president going to do about it?  Why, consult private corporations of course.  We can be sure these behemoth, tax-dodging, profit-hoarding, overseas job-shipping, male-dominated, hoggish bonus-awarding conglomerates will immediately do the right thing and start paying women what they’re worth.  And not only that – they will hire more women, give them paid maternity leave, set up on-site day care centers and establish remunerated liberal leave policies to care for sick family members.  All because President Obama asks them, nicely, to do the right thing. His assistant, Valerie Jarrett, has announced a partnership with private industry that would “encourage” girls to enter more lucrative professions. Cool.

The Human Rights report story, which was buried in last week’s Times and got little corporate media attention, points out that the United States is an “extreme outlier” when it comes to family-friendly workplace policies. Of 179 other countries in the developed world, the USA  is alone in not providing mandatory, extended paid maternity leave. And contrary to the constant haranguing of our politicians that social safety net programs are the cause of our deficit, the truth is that nations with humane employment laws actually do better economically.  They are competititive and they are productive.  Workers are more rested, they get more vacation time, they work fewer hours and they don’t feel forced to come to work sick.  Oh, and they can afford all this because, because they tax the wealthy at reasonable rates. They don’t make working people suffer so the wealthy can get even richer.  Their top one percent of millionaires and billionaires don’t hold a full third of the wealth of an entire nation, like ours does.
The Human Rights Watch people conclude that as a result of our economic barbarism, we Americans are less healthy and definitely not as happy as our global fellows.  Our children don’t do as well in school and they tend to get into more trouble.  The parents are tired, the kids are bored and neglected. The elderly are shipped off to nursing homes, putting a further unnecessary strain on Medicare and Medicaid. Other countries are more liberal in providing in-home care.
We currently have  unpaid family leave legislation, but that only covers about half the nation’s workforce.  Only 11 percent of companies provide paid leave to care for family members. Although two-thirds of American workers have some paid sick time, only one fifth of the low-income workers do. These benefits are decreasing as the glut of job-seekers increases and employers are less inclined to provide incentives for employees to stay on the job. The workers of America have become mere fodder and are emininently expendable. American life is cheap.
“ We can't afford not to guarantee paid family leave under law – especially in these tough economic times. The US is actually missing out by failing to ensure that all workers have access to paid family leave. Countries that have these programs show productivity gains, reduced turnover costs, and health care savings” said Janet Walsh, deputy womens rights director of HRW. "Millions of US workers - including parents of infants - are harmed by weak or nonexistent laws on paid leave, breastfeeding accommodation, and discrimination against workers with family responsibilities,” she continued. "Workers face grave health, financial, and career repercussions as a result. US employers miss productivity gains and turnover savings that these cost-effective policies generate in other countries".
The 90-page report, "Failing its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the US," is based on interviews with 64 parents across the country. It documents the health and financial impact on American workers of having little or no paid family leave after childbirth or adoption, employer reticence to offer breastfeeding support or flexible schedules, and workplace discrimination against new parents, especially mothers. Parents said that having scarce or no paid leave contributed to delaying babies' immunizations, postpartum depression and other health problems, and caused mothers to give up breastfeeding early. Many who took unpaid leave went into debt and some were forced to seek public assistance. Some women said employer bias against working mothers derailed their careers. Same-sex parents were often denied even unpaid leave.  (from the Human Rights Watch report).
The White House-commissioned-study on women and girls was the first such report since President Kennedy commissioned Eleanor Roosevelt to conduct one in the 1960s.  Of course, back then, women were paid lousily when they had jobs at all.  But income tax levels were still equitable and there was a thriving middle class.  Families could actually survive on one paycheck.
Not so today. Families are barely making ends meet on two, even three or four paychecks, many of them earned at low or no-benefit, low-wage jobs.  Jobs that disappeared at the high end of the wage scale are not coming back.  Wages have not only stagnated  - they are plummeting.  President Obama himself instituted a wage freeze on federal employees which amounts to a virtual five-year wage cut.  States have not only followed suit in cutting wages and eliminating jobs, but they are instituting full-scale attacks on workers’ unions and collective bargaining rights.  Congressional Republicans have gone even further, aggressively attacking every program that benefits women and children.  WIC, which provides funding for mother and child nutrition, and Planned Parenthood, are just two of them. These Republicans actually seem to harbor a deep-seated hatred for families and all vulnerable members of society.  Better that a billionaire can buy another yacht than a hundred innocent children have a roof over their heads and enough to eat.  Even Dickens would be shocked by the barbarism of 21st century America. Human Rights Watch  watch surely was, and they’ve certainly seen it all – from cholera outbreaks and homelessness in Haiti to the bloody streets of autocratic Libya.  We are officially a banana republic. So much for American exceptionalism.
And what would Eleanor Roosevelt think?  Well, we know she wouldn’t be hanging around the White House at a press conference and photo ops touting a new study about the plight of women and offering no solutions.  We know she would not be approaching the spawn of J.P. Morgan or Andrew Mellon to ask for "suggestions".  I have a feeling she would be camped out at the state capital in Madison to show solidarity with the nurses and teachers and firefighters being scapegoated by the oligarchs.
"You in the unions do not yet represent all of labor. But I hope some day you will, because I believe that it is through strength, through the fact that people who know what people need are working to make this country a better place for all people, that we will help the world to accept our leadership and understand that under our form of government, and through our way of life, we have something to offer them." (Eleanor Roosevelt, ACWA Convention, 1956).


Draft Spitzer said...

Great post, Karen. Thanks for making us aware of the report, and reminding everyone what an activist Eleanor was.
As someone who entered the workforce a generation after you did, I'm skeptical about the "80 cents on the dollar" stat. I was for many years better compensated than my male friends - based largely on the fact that they were working as teachers and park rangers and soldiers, and I was a prevaricating PR hack. And I know what maternity leave, which many of my female peers have taken, can do to your returning wage when "leave" sensibly becomes more of a working sabbatical. I know a host of stay-at-home dads who were helped to that career choice because the mom made more money.
I think you got to the point when you talk about how it was once possible for a family to survive on one salary. That's the problem.

Draft Spitzer said...

Heads-up that Melissa Harris-Perry ("The War On Women") was interviewed today on WNYC, I think your readers might really enjoy hearing the interview. I can't seem to paste the link, but they can hear Melissa if they go to WNYC's website.

cek said...

I think you're absolutely right about ER. Excellent post.

FWIW, the .80/$1.00 figure does ring true as an average, showing both incremental progress from the 70 cents on the dollar stat of 40 years ago and how impervious real-life facts are to the limited world view of outlier neo-yuppies.

Draft Spitzer said...

Sure, but cek, if more women take maternity leave, or take years off on the mommy track, or decline work that requires travel because they want to remain more involved with their children, wouldn't that necessarily affect their incomes, and thereby affect the average?
The larger issue is really wage stagnation for everyone, and the squabbling over 80/100 in the midst of record-high unemployment strikes quite a few people as missing the point, particularly if the stat isn't assessed against the reality that more women take maternity leave than men take paternity leave.
We're all vulnerable. We've all been affected by the overwhelming power given to corporations.
I do think there's probably a generational difference in how this issue is viewed - Karen's generation grew up with an entirely different reality than those that followed.

Draft Spitzer said...

BTW, what constitutes an "outlier neo-yuppie"? Someone who left a lucrative corporate position with obscene benefits to serve an economically disadvantaged population in an urban hospital with low salary and no benefits? Okay, I'm guilty as charged!

Anne Lavoie said...

Winning Progressive?

Forgive me for this off topic comment but you all might find it interesting.

Winning Progressive is not one person. Winning Progressive is a non-profit organization, probably a campaign committee flying under the radar of both campaign laws and taxes.

This organization, as stated on their website, is claimed to be run by an ANONYMOUS husband-wife team, and they recently hired someone to help them with their 'cause'. They have links for most of the U.S. newspapers on their website, by state.

In case you think they are merely promoting the Progressive cause, think about how consistent these people have been in their NY Times comments praising Obama, but never once mentioning any other alleged Progressive.

I suspect our Trojan Horse 'Progressive'-turned-Conservative President has sired some Trojan Horse offspring of his own.

Personally, I am selecting the 'Report as Inappropriate' option next to their comments. I haven't quite decided if they are Obscene or Spam, so I selected Off Topic this time. I am hoping that if NYT has a computerized ranking system, this will send them down in the dumps where they belong.

Lets do our part to keep comments on NYT from real people. Since Obama is such a friend of business these days, who knows who they really work for. Maybe the Chamber of Commerce. Who knows.


Anonymous said...

I keep hearing about how exploited the masses are here in the U.S. compared to say Europe for example. I have worked there and have friends that work there today. Most of them complain about the exact same thing that we complain about. That would be low wages and high taxes! Most would rather work here and because things are cheaper here ask me to buy things and send them to their visiting friends.

This caused me to look at the numbers, the overall death rate for most of the Scandinavian workers paradises, France, Germany and much of Eastern Europe are higher than the U.S.. The shocking fact is the male Suicide rate was also way higher than the U.S., in the same countries. The "awful" U.S. Has a slightly lower rate than the U.K.! (source W.H.O. No friend of the U.S.)

Why is that if your theory of the mass exploration of the workers here is correct?


Karen Garcia said...

Looking at female suicide rates, the figure is 4.5 per 100,000 in the United States and 5.4 in Canada (with its single payer health care). Lithuanian males kill themselves at higher rates than anyone and Japanese suicides are way higher than the global average as well. Scandinavian countries' rates are slightly higher than in the U.S.

There are other factors besides social safety nets or the lack thereof, and taxes, that cause people to do away with themselves. Women of all nationalities, while the more oppressed of the sexes in the workplace, still don't come close to men in suicides. Do women have better built-in coping mechanisms, do you suppose?

Anonymous said...

The low suicide rate of women in most countries as compared to men is interesting and is believed to be the result of differences in the way men and women interact with those around them. Women attempt suicide about twice as often as men here in the U.S. But have a suicide rate about 1/4 that of men. It is thought that a lot of the attempts are an expression of feelings and not serious attempts to kill oneself. Perhaps women are just the "Perfect Socialists" that Marx was looking for?