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Invisible Women Workers, Right in Front of Our Eyes

July 15, 2014 By John Van Hecke, Publisher

Women dominate low-wage hospitality industry jobs and minimum wage and tip credit debates overwhelmingly impact women workers. They work invisibly, yet in plain sight.

Work life’s financial rewards most reluctantly accumulate to women. Women still earn 20% less than male counterparts for the same work.

Minimum wage increases overwhelmingly affect women workers. Family childcare and eldercare responsibilities still force women to choose between caring for family and going to work.

Invisibility makes discounting women workers’ contributions easier.

In the 2014 Women’s Economic Security Act, Minnesota took important steps to improve women’s family and financial stability. It’s an overdue step but it’s not enough. What can Minnesota do to aid women workers and address long-term wage and working conditions inequity?

How do we make invisible workers visible?

This conversation is open all day. Debra Fitzpatrick, Program Director of the University of Minnesota, Humphrey Institute’s Center on Women and Public Policy, and home care worker, Jane Conrad have been contributing their wisdom to the conversation. 

 

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42 Comments:

  • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

    July 15, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Hi!  I am happy to join you this morning to talk about the Status of Women & Girls in the state, our ongoing research effort with the Women’s Foundation ofMinnesota; the Women’s Economic Security Act and where we go next.  The Status of Women & Girls project quantifies and makes visible women lives across the state.  Our latest full report is available at wfmn.org.  The Women’s Economic Security Act is a comprehensive approach to continuing economic inequities that not only hurt women but increasingly families and the state that depend on their income.  Look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts.

  • Mike C says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:09 am

    If it’s not one drum to beat it’s another, or another or another.

    I’m black, I’m white, I’m poor, I’m rich, I’m a woman, I’m a man, I’m straight, I’m gay. I think it is so disengenuous that the left always has to create class warfare to get their agenda pushed forward.

    The ground is not level, there is always going to be some that make more and some that make less. I personally think it’s funny that the White House staff salaries were shown to pay women 77% of what their counterparts make and where’s the president doing anything about that.

    You think you are under paid, find another place to work. You think it’s unfair where you work, there are 3 people who would love to have your job. Maybe instead of complaining about what you’re not getting you should put in more effort to get to where you want to be. My wife went back to school on her employers dime because they paid for it, graduated and is now a teacher in our public school

    Stop making yourself a victim all the time and be grateful you work, live and enjoy the fruits of this great land.

    • Jane Conrad says:

      July 15, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Congratulations to your wife Mike. However, you do realize that she has one of the lowest paying professionals jobs, right? Teaching is considered a “woman’s profession.”

      • Mike C says:

        July 15, 2014 at 8:17 am

        It makes her happy and that makes me happy.

        • jane Conrad says:

          July 15, 2014 at 8:20 am

          I glad she’s happy. But is her worth less because she’s a teacher?

  • Jane Conrad says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:10 am

    The Women’s Economic Security Act is only one approach to moving women and their families forward. There is still much to do.

  • John Van Hecke says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:12 am

    As a teenager, I remember women’s movement activists sporting 59 cents buttons. It prompted me to start asking the “why?” question. Today, in Minnesota, women earn 80 cents of the dollar that male counterparts earn for the same work. What’s standing in the way of reaching pay equality? Why has it taken 40 years and we’re still only at 80 cents?

    • Jane Conrad says:

      July 15, 2014 at 8:19 am

      John, Income inequality is still a problem because, 1) It is still a mind set that men are the bread winners and 2) women’s work isn’t worth as much. Currently, homecare workers in Minnesota are organizing to get better pay, and training to care for their clients. It’s been a long hard fight but it’s something that will bring thousands out of poverty and help those who need our help. Homecare is predominately a female field.

    • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

      July 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Why are we stuck?  (1) Segregation of the workforce stalled in the mid-90’s and now is actually increasing for younger workers and workers of color; leaving women and women of color stuck in lower paid occupations associated with the “home” (caring, food prep and other “domestic” work).  Work-life balance remains a bigger problem for women and our workplaces have not adapted to the reality of two earner families.  We believe that gender discriminations is a thing of the past since it is less visible, but research shows it is still very powerful at an unconscious level.

      • Jane Conrad says:

        July 15, 2014 at 8:36 am

        I agree Debra and the current climate isn’t making it easier. It actually seems that we have gone backwards. Instead of looking into how to solve the problem people seem to be blaming the victim more and more. It’s easy to point a finger if your not the one being discriminated against.

  • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Several factors contribute to the wage gap—choice of occupation as Mike says is just one of them.  About 40% is attributed to occupation.  Another 30% to time out of the workforce for caregiving, levels of position and other human capital factors, but around 30% if due to factors like discrimination that can’t be traced to individual decisions.

    • Jane Conrad says:

      July 15, 2014 at 8:24 am

      In organizing home care workers, I have met many women who quit well paying jobs to care for a disabled loved one. Usually, it’s the woman who is left to care for family thus throwing her further into poverty. Most women are one paycheck away from dire financial situations.

      • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

        July 15, 2014 at 8:34 am

        Addressing the caring crisis in our state is critical to women’s economic security.  Women still disproportionately do the unpaid and paid caregiving in our state with significant consequences to their economic well-being.  Paid sick and family leave as well as more recognition that caring for elderly and disabled people is moving out of institutions and in to our homes where women have to take over are important policy steps we did to take to address inequities.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      July 15, 2014 at 8:32 am

      Debra and Jane - Thanks for leading the discussion this morning.  Obviously, that last 30% is the piece we need to go after.  What’s the best approach for doing that?  It feels like there’s a culture shift that needs to happen, in addition to policy solutions.  Where should progressives be focusing their energy if we want to eliminate that discrimination factor from the pay equity story in Minnesota?

      • Jane Conrad says:

        July 15, 2014 at 8:41 am

        Steve, First I think education is a huge factor. Like I said earlier, it seems people are blaming the victim. 2) It’s a matter of bringing people together. In the home care field we will bring together 26,000 PCA (personal care attendants) to form a union. This will improve the lives of the workers and improve the program for everyone while still saving the tax payers money. Homecare is a real job with serious responsibilities. Yet those that do it are invisible but not for long.

        • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

          July 15, 2014 at 8:53 am

          I agree about education.  Home care and other caring professions are growing rapidly in the state.  People need to understand their interdependence with these critically important workers in our state.  Everyone wants their family members or themselves to be cared for by a professional caregiver—one that is paid enough to be stable, is well trained and happy doing their job.

          • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

            July 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

            The 5% raise the state gave PCAs last session was a small start down a path of recognizing the value of care work to our state.  We need to do much more.  Organizing these workers is really important—so glad Jane and others are doing that work.  So at a policy level supporting the right to organize is important.  But we also need to then support legislators who are willing to pay living wages to our PCAs, childcare workers and other paid caregivers.  Recognizing the value of caring work that is currently unpaid is also important.  Some countries have begun to include an unpaid care component in their GDP estimates.  This is philosophically important because it begins to move us towards economically valuing this critically important work.

            • jane Conrad says:

              July 15, 2014 at 9:15 am

              There is still a lot of work to be done. Helping the public understand that the work we do is important, and saves tax payers millions each year and will continue to do even after we have our union. We keep people in their homes. Without us they would be in nursing homes which would cost much more. Currently, most of us go into homes to care for people with special needs and we are not given any training. If I was to get a job at McDonald’s I would be trained how to fry a hamburger and yet for people there is nothing. For most PCA’s, the wages are so low they cannot afford to miss a work day and many have gone to sick. Thus putting their clients at risk. These are just a few of the problems in the current program

              • Jane Conrad says:

                July 15, 2014 at 9:22 am

                There is currently a shortage of PCA’s in Minnesota due to low wages which means more people end up in nursing homes. Nursing homes cost tax payers more. We provide a service that benefits both the individual and the tax payers yet we are poorly compensated. There are many PCA’s who are on public assistance and the work 40 plus hours a week. I met a single mother of 3 children. She works 60 hours a week. 40 in homecare and 20 at McDonalds. She told me she prays everyday that her children turn out ok because she’s not there to raise them Nobody who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty and this woman does.

      • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

        July 15, 2014 at 8:42 am

        One part of the solution is legal—that’s why we added a new protected class under the human rights act for parents and pregnant women in WESA.  Employers will have to address the significant conscious and unconscious bias we have against mothers and men who are perceived as primary caregivers or face consequences.  We were unsuccessful in adding a family caregiver protected class as well that would cover the other caregiving pieces - elderly/disabled.  Hope to comeback to that next year.

        One part is social—we need to make people more aware of how unconscious bias or associations continue to drive many of our employment decisions.  Research shows that when we are aware we can compensate.  No one was more alarmed by the results of the National Academies study than the women faculty members who realized they were just as guilty as men of undervaluing female applicants.  Awareness is key. 

        These two can go together—since employers take their responsibilities to weed out bias in their decisions more seriously if there are consequences.

        • Jane Conrad says:

          July 15, 2014 at 8:48 am

          Debra, I agree but how do we get the public to understand that this is a real serious problem? After all, it is the average person who elects the lawmakers that make the policies.

          • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

            July 15, 2014 at 9:28 am

            The pay gap is an easily understood marker of inequality.  Many people are perplexed about why it persists.  I see that as an opportunity to educate.  I have been asked by some unlikely groups to come talk about the pay gap.  I do think this is a place to raise awareness.

            Men are also starting to understand that the current situation is harmful to them.  When their wives earn less it has consequences for their family.  When workplaces aren’t family friendly they lose out on opportunities to be the more involved father they are expected and want to be today. 

            I think we have a generational opportunity to make it clear that progress has stalled and younger workers are poised to demand a change.

            Also, people like Jane and many. many others are responding to the growing inequality that is undeniable.

            Some key opinion leaders see WESA, minimum wage and other progress made over the past two years as the beginning of a tipping point.

            My glass half full end of conversation analysis.

        • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

          July 15, 2014 at 8:48 am

          Occupational segregation also has an element of bias as we’ve discussed.  As a state we have addressed this to some degree for state and local workers with comparable worth laws—these employers have had to look carefully at the skills,risks and education required for every job and then look at how female dominated and male dominate jobs compare regularly and make adjustments.  This type of system addresses employer bias is two important ways—requires attention and adjustments on a regular basis and compensates for the undervaluing of female dominated jobs.  WESA provisions originally would have required state contractors to do a similar analysis and adjustment but this was attacked vehemently by business interests.  I think we have to creative about how we move this concept in to the private sector.  A voluntary program might help or other ways to demonstrate that this is very doable.

          • Jane Conrad says:

            July 15, 2014 at 8:59 am

            Educating private sector businesses seems easier to me than helping people like Mike C understand that these are real situations. That just because one doesn’t see open discrimination doesn’t mean it’s not there.

            • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

              July 15, 2014 at 9:07 am

              One piece of WESA is a new grant program within DEED that can be used to educate employers.  I think this is a start, but is small and needs to become a regular part of what DEED does.  We are working on that.  But also we need more carrots and sticks to help employers understand the importance.  Lawsuits are part of that but our capacity to bring suits is limited.  So we need more.  We are also hoping to comeback next session with a request for funding to do a “Know your rights” campaign for workers and a “Know your responsibilities” campaign for employers.

              • Jane Conrad says:

                July 15, 2014 at 9:08 am

                That sounds great. What about classroom education? Is there a way to get funding for a k-12 program that would include all areas of discrimination?

                • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

                  July 15, 2014 at 9:18 am

                  K-12 and higher ed systems are eligible for the grant program as well.  But much more could be done in this arena.  The new bullying law is a potential avenue for increasing understanding across difference and the ongoing impact of bias/discrimination in our daily lives.  Implementation will be critical.  I have pushed to get a gender lens included.  Often this is left out in favor of race.  I think both and other (sexual orientation, etc.) are all important.

  • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Another factor is the undervaluing of female dominated professions when you consider skills, risk education levels.  Research in several states shows that female dominated professions are paid 20% less than comparable professions where men dominate.  The Women’s Economic Security Act made progress in addressing implementation and enforcement of equal pay laws, but we still need to move Minnesota’s model comparable worth laws from the public sector in to the private sector.  2020’s report on the hospitality industry discusses the fact that these workers have higher injury rates than other male dominated fields but pay much less.

  • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:23 am

    A huge body of research shows that putting in more effort helps but it is not enough.  National Academy of Sciences study found that male applicants for lab manager jobs were rated more hirable and competent and offered more money and mentoring than IDENTICAL female applicants.  Catalyst study of high potential MBAs found women who “leaned in” did make more money and get more promotions than women who didn’t but they still fell behind similar men.  Just a few examples of hundreds of studies using different methodologies.

  • Christine says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Hi I’m a PCA in Crosby Mn and I would like to know how all this works?

    • Rachel says:

      July 15, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Welcome Christine! Tell us more about the organizing work you are involved with.

      • Christine says:

        July 15, 2014 at 8:55 am

        I was Wondering the policy that just passed in July. I got a 20 cent raise for a six month review which I have never seen one before. Said it wasn’t apart of 5% I’m confused on what to do and say to my employers.

  • Christine Hale says:

    July 15, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I think of unfair for women to not be recognized for the work we do expectially when we take care of other peoples families and our own. All us women know how hard the work we do is. Also how much we are depended on. I know my client depends on me all so after I have gotten done with many different kinds of surgery I returned back to work right after. I have tried to promote the company I work for but when you get a 20 cent raise and it is for 6 month review. Not for the pay increase we are suppose to recieve. The reason was explained our company gives out 94 percent I don’t think they are getting new rules on increase or maybe I’m not?

    • jane Conrad says:

      July 15, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Christine, Unfortunately your story is not unique. I have met many Homecare workers who have returned to work the day after having surgery, babies and have even gone while sick. Currently, the system is set up to keep women in poverty and make it hard for them to move forward. That will soon change

    • jane Conrad says:

      July 15, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Then you should be getting the 5% raise. And once we have our union we will have a contract that will improve our lives and those we care for.

    • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

      July 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Christine: I’m not an expert on the increases that passed last session, but I did want to second your plea for recognition.  And give 2020 kudos for their work on hospitality workers.  Some may not think of that as care work—but I do.  It is certainly wrapped up in our ongoing ideas about domestic work.  As I said under another comment, I think we need to wake people up to their interdependence with caring labor. 

      • Jane Conrad says:

        July 15, 2014 at 9:17 am

        It seems to me Debra, that people have to get out of the mindset that says “if it’s good for my neighbor it must be bad for me.” The truth is if my neighbor does well then I do well.

      • Christine says:

        July 15, 2014 at 9:31 am

        Jane ~ Agree usually women are to stay home I stayed home and took care of my grandfather when he was dying from cancer. While taking care of my three kids when two were in diapers it was very difficult but of course we take care of our loved ones first. I then moved fro. Glenwood Mn came to Crosby so I biked at least ten miles a day to get to my jobs because I was unable to get a car until after first yr. Then my back went out hand a 2 level fusion in lower back. But returned back to work shortly after. This were is would be nice to have paused sick time Debra. I know have to go threw another fusion next month but in three levels now since my fusion failed. Not sure how we are going to keep up with all our bills?One thing I do agree with is that women do need to stand up for what they believed in actually anyone should. I recall love the SEIU Union I think they are great and will be going out doing all I can to get the cards signed before I go in for surgery I would like to see this all the way . Sad we are so underappreciated for all the hard work we do.

  • Christine says:

    July 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I was Wondering the policy that just passed in July. I got a 20 cent raise for a six month review which I have never seen one before. Said it wasn’t apart of 5% I’m confused on what to do and say to my employers.

  • Christine says:

    July 15, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Hi I’m a PCA in Crosby Mn and I would like to know how all this works?

  • Debra Fitzpatrick says:

    July 15, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Last note on WESA legislative priorities for next year:

    * paid sick and family leave
    * elimination of the state’s waiting lists for childcare assistance
    * caregivers as a protected class

    Progressives can help us make progress on these and many other measures that help working women and their families.

    • Chloette Haley says:

      July 16, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Good morning.  My 26-year-old adult son has intellectual and developmental disabilities and continues to live in our family home. I am far from a victim, just the opposite.  I move mountains daily that would make many men cry and run for the hills smile. I have been a full-time working parent of two children including my son with disabilities.  The stress has left me and my husband with disabilities as well.  It has affected my career path.  My husband has been disabled for 15 years, leaving me to be the sole wage earner.  My career path has remained steady however stalled and I have had to pass up opportunities to move to a new career or aim for a promotion due to the enormous amount of caregiving I have to provide.  PCA’s have been an integral part of allowing me to continue work while they care for my son.  My PCA’s have had to take a fair amount of training and they are paid while taking the training.  As a parent, I recently was required to take 30 hours of training as well, even though I have cared for my son for 26 years…waste of resources to be sure.  I agree that PCA’s need to be paid more.  The amount of responsibility is high and quality services are crucial for this vulnerable population.  The tension is that people with disabilities have fixed budgets and the more PCA’s get paid the fewer hours the individual with disabilities will receive care.  This is an area that needs to become a win/win for both parties.