July 23, 2010

Pay Equity: Fairness and Economic Recovery

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:20 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted at BlueOregon.com.

85%. Women are responsible for making 85% of all consumer purchases, but still make only $.78 for every dollar a man makes. Make that $.68 for African-American women and $.58 for Latinas for every dollar. And the disparity hits single women with children hardest — they average up to 44% less pay. The “Paycheck Fairness Act” supported by President Obama’s Administration aims to close that ever-present gap.

I spoke with Senator Merkley on Tuesday about the Administration’s support for pay equity following his attendance at Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force event. Vice President Biden emphasized that with two-thirds of families being run by working parents, the “Paycheck Fairness Act” would be creating a change to reflect the reality of today’s families.

Senator Merkley added, “The average income of working families has been flat since 1974. Since then, the economy has generated a tremendous amount of wealth (even with the current Great Recession) and we have seen a growing disparity.” And the continuing wage gap for women only exacerbates the disparity.

On its face, the fight for pay equity is simply about a principle of fairness: equal pay for equal work. A popular graphic from pay equity advocates is a coupon (see below) for 23% off services for women since they make that much less. But no such coupon exists for women. And working women with children, in particular, face a double whammy. Not only will they fall prey to the across-the-board wage disparity that women experience, but they also can face wage depression in the form of “mommy tracking” where mothers are put on a different career development path for various reasons.

23% off coupon

When you combine all of that with a lurching economy, pay equity takes on a brighter sheen. With women overwhelmingly responsible for the majority of consumer purchases, depressed wages for women have a ripple effect in the economy. In moderate income families, bringing in more money often results in spending more money to raise the family’s standard of living. Perhaps it’s new clothes for school, a much-needed appliance, or other purchases that get delayed due to lack of resources. Getting a fair and full wage into the hands of working women encourages spending and pumps up the GDP.

I don’t know about you, but I vote for doubling down on fairness and bolstering our economic recovery.

So what does the “Paycheck Fairness Act” do primarily to close the wage gap:

  • First of all, it would place gender-based discrimination on par with other forms of discrimination. As Senator Merkley said, “It’s an injustice that wage disparity exists for such a huge proportion of our work force.”
  • Secondly, it would protect employees from retaliation for asking about or discussing wages with other employees. Women can experience a loss of a half a million dollars over the course of their career for not negotiating their first salary. When employees have access to information about salaries, they are in a better position to successfully negotiate their salary.

In addition, the Obama Administration wants to close the 11% gender-wage gap found by the General Accounting Office in the federal workforce and is working on improving collection of data on salaries that will be open and accessible to the public. (Read the entire equal pay task force document.)

Vice President Biden summed it up nicely at his event on Tuesday. “Closing the gender pay gap, helping parents keep their jobs while balancing family responsibilities, and increasing workplace flexibility – these are not only women’s issues, they are issues of middle class economic security.”


July 18, 2010

Accepting all Riders

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:19 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted at BlueOregon.com.

Two summers ago, I was a new mom trying to take excursions with my newborn son and perhaps getting groceries and essentials on our way back home. One day, I packed up my stroller, grabbed my purse and my stocked diaper bag and went to the bus stop. When the bus pulled up, I was stunned to hear the bus driver tell me that I would have to break down my stroller and take my baby out of it and lug all of my other gear up on the bus with baby in hand. Thank goodness, he was willing to hop out of the bus and help me.

However, my experience is not typical and this was not during busy commuting time. Now as a downtown commuter who largely travels by bus without my child, I have seen countless mothers go through this same experience. In rush hour, tired bus drivers will be short with these moms. “You need to break down that stroller!” “That’s too big for this bus!” “You need to take that baby out of there!” And I have seen other passengers come to the aid of these mothers to help them get their equipment on the bus.Two years later, I find myself remembering my experience. I remember taking the bus less often because I was never sure if there would be a helping hand for me and my (necessary) gear. And I recall how I felt not included when I realized that my stroller was not an acceptable size for the bus, even though I would often fill it with groceries and essentials when out running errands for our household.

Most recently, this happened to a woman whose first language was not English. She didn’t understand what was being asked of her and her baby was sound asleep in the stroller. There was room on the bus for the stroller in the spots for wheelchairs and there were no disabled passengers on the bus at the time. The bus driver, following TriMet’s policy, asked her to break down her stroller. She didn’t understand and the bus driver asked again. Finally other passengers tried to explain and started trying to help her break down her stroller. By the time they were able to help her break down and secure her stroller while she held the three-month-old baby in her arms (she could have never broken down the stroller without help), she was two stops away from her stop.

Here is what I know. Space is at a premium on a city bus, bus drivers work hard and need passengers to respond to their requests and follow TriMet policy AND the current TriMet policy does not adequately reflect the reality of a mother commuting by bus with a baby.

Reading Trimet’s policy on traveling with kids, it all seems reasonable.

You’re welcome to bring a stroller on the bus or train, but keep in mind there may not always be room on board. If you do bring a stroller, we recommend using a folding “umbrella” style stroller. Large and double-wide strollers are not practical for use on TriMet.

In practice, this policy is a hardship on riding mothers. Consider these scenarios in regard to the policy:

  • Mothers with infants 0-6 months cannot use umbrella strollers because an infant cannot sit up on his/her own.
  • Breaking down and transporting a stroller requires two hands. This means that any parcels and in the case of an infant carseat/stroller combo, the infant carseat will need to be taken out of the stroller. I have seen mothers, receiving no assistance, have to leave their baby on the bus while she went back outside to get the rest of her belongings.
  • A baby is sleeping in the stroller and even though there is space on the bus, the baby must be taken out of the stroller (usually waking the baby up) and the stroller is broken down. Note: Again, a stroller cannot be taken down very easily while holding a baby.

The below changes would improve the experience for mothers greatly:

  • Lift option (in policy) for mothers with strollers should always be offered (I have yet to see this in practice, though I am sure it does happen).
  • Mothers with larger strollers (infant, twins, or two children) should be allowed the option of using the wheelchair space and lock when not needed for disabled or senior citizens and not have to break down their stroller.
  • If a stroller must be broken down, a bus driver will offer assistance.
  • Bike hangers on Max should be equipped with a “jump seat” for moms and a lock so that this can be an optional place for sitting with a stroller so as not to inconvenience other passengers. This space would then accommodate two types of Max riders.

I don’t believe Trimet’s policy is an intentional slight to mothers, I think it just needs a minor revision to help mothers, fathers and caretakers feel like an accepted class of riders.