And it’s diapers. Or more specifically what happens when parents can’t afford to buy them. In case you don’t have young children, you might not realize how much diapers cost (up to $1000 a year)! Yikes. That’s a big percentage of someone’s income if they are making $20,000 a year or less. But that’s not the kicker. Many childcare facilities won’t let you leave your child if you cannot provide an adequate supply of diapers. And if you don’t have childcare, you can’t go to work. For parents in low wage jobs, they often have to choose between diapers or food in order to get their kids off to daycare and themselves to work.
Babies are gonna poop, so lawmakers in California proposed a bill that would give families on public assistance money for diapers. Because you can’t buy diapers with food stamps (they are considered a “luxury” item like booze and cigarettes).
It remains to be seen if this California bill passes, but I think it’s great to see this issue being talked about. A friend of mine is grouchy that they are talking about such a small change, when we really should be talking about the big problem of poverty and exploring big solutions. And he’s not wrong. But I’m excited about the potential for this to spark bigger conversations. Addressing poverty and barriers to work are critical to people being abused. Having money gives women more choices about their relationships. If talking about diapers is the window that opens our eyes to the bigger issues of poverty, that’s fine with me. Diapers for all!
I’ve got a problem. My little girl needs to go to preschool next September and after weeks of research and help from fellow parent friends I’ve found one―ONE!―school in my neighborhood that I can afford that might work when pieced together with, literally, four other childcare options like drop-in daycare and kind friends. And only if I also rearrange my work schedule, which I’m super lucky to be able to do because I work part-time and have a very understanding supervisor. The number of balls in the air here are dizzying and just might crush me if they all drop.
But then I think about how much harder it could be. How on earth do single parents do this, or parents in a toxic relationship? My partner is loving and supportive, but I’m still the one doing all the research, comparing preschools, visiting the schools, and rearranging my schedule. The title of this Slate article sums up what so often happens: When childcare costs more than rent, women stay at home. Of course, even that is not an option for many families.
The issue of childcare has a huge impact on people in an abusive relationship. Having a job can be a literal life line for someone being abused. It means time during the day when you are not isolated and can build relationships with other people, and it means a paycheck. Money gives you options and the power to make your own decisions. No one who is trying to keep themselves and their children safe should have to struggle to find affordable childcare so that they can keep their job. That’s my hope for everyone.
I read this editorial, A Toxic Work World, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I have 18-year-old twin daughters that I am about to launch into college, and I wonder what kind of world I am sending them into. I imagine my children getting a job, building their careers, providing for their families. But what if it is a low wage job? They will be lucky to get sick time and enough hours to make ends meet. What happens if someone gets sick? Or even if they are working in a lucrative career, it’s hard to succeed unless you live as if you are childless and don’t have any family members who need you. Most of our workplaces are still structured as if there is someone at home, usually a woman, providing free care for children and elder family members. Low wage or high wage earner, this equation is impossible.
Then I think about the many women I’ve worked with over the years who are in a battering or coercive relationship. When you need to get a job to help secure your freedom, what are your options? Are we telling them that they might as well go back home, because at least they can provide for their children and keep a roof over their head?
Let’s stop pretending that we are productive and humane when we force people to work when they are sick, quit their jobs to take care of others, work longer regardless of family responsibilities, and make it harder for people in abusive relationships to achieve financial independence. I don’t want an illusion of economic independence for my daughters, or for anyone.
What I want is a work environment that nurtures your soul, supports your family responsibilities, and values your loyalty and evolving experience and skills. Organizing for change in the workplace structure doesn’t have to be all or nothing—think about the recent success of the Seattle School teachers strike. But we do have to get clear about what we want. One thing I am clear about—our lives and our communities are intertwined. No one is untouched and that is a deep and giving source of power.
I recently came across this article about a woman who had lied on her resume about her education. Of course lying about such things is not ethical or wise—but I think this is an excellent opportunity to look at the misplaced emphasis our society has on college degrees.
According to the article, she did her job quite well and was well-liked and respected. She made significant improvements and added value to her workplace for almost thirty years. So, does that one lie mean more than her good work?
Many organizations automatically require a four-year degree for every job (even the ones paying minimum or near-minimum wage), often for no particular reason. There have been jobs I’ve been disqualified from despite having the exact work experience needed, simply because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. I can understand the temptation to lie, the frustration of not being able to get your foot in the door despite your qualifications.
Requiring college degrees bolsters inequity and discrimination. Think about who does and doesn’t have access to college. For instance, we know that abuse is a huge disruptor to domestic violence victims’ lives, including their attempts at education or getting a better job. Abusers may actively sabotage victims’ efforts to study or attend classes. And for victims who’ve had to take the extreme measure of obtaining a new identity, they may not be able to even acknowledge college degrees, if they have them.
My friend Laura Pritchard Wirkman runs Sharehouse (it’s like a food bank, but for furniture and household items) so job access and economic justice are already on her radar. She’s managed to revise the job descriptions there: “I try to talk to other management-types about this as much as possible and always encourage them to question the education requirement for any position,” she says. “If it’s not a specialized position that literally necessitates a degree or license, then the next question should always be: ‘Does direct or related experience make up for (or even outweigh) a degree?’”
If you have any authority over job descriptions at your workplace, talk with your colleagues about your standard requirements. Look at each job and actually think about whether applicants need to have a four-year degree. You could be weeding out qualified candidates and inadvertently discriminating against domestic violence victims and other marginalized groups of people.
Last week we marked Equal Pay Day. It is the day that represents how many days into 2014 women must work to make as much as their male counterparts did in 2013. And as this day came around again, I just had to say: sigh.
In 1963 we passed the Equal Pay Act. Then, women were making on average 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. I’m here to tell you that we have made progress. Today a woman earns on average 77 cents for every man-dollar. So it’s taken over 50 years to close the gap by $0.18! Wow. We MUST do better.
This year on Equal Pay Day, President Obama signed two executive orders to help expose wage discrimination. That’s a step in the right direction. But the very next day the Senate failed (again) to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, with some claiming unequal pay is a myth and political tactic. It’s true that lower wage jobs often employ more women, and women’s pay—more often than men’s—is affected by taking leave for the care of children. This accounts for some of the gap, but not all of it. Even in occupations where women are the majority of employees, the men in those occupations Make. More. Money. What?! Gender discrimination happens on the job, whether it’s about wages or hiring and promotion practices.
I’d like to live in a world where women can make decisions about their relationships without regard to the financial impact of those decisions. A world where no one must choose to stay in a relationship they would otherwise end because staying means having a warm place to sleep and food for their kids. When we ensure that women have equal pay, are treated fairly at their jobs, and have opportunities to compete for higher paying jobs we create safe and peaceful communities.
There is something afoot in the fight to raise the minimum wage—the increasingly visible voices of low-wage workers. The Fight for 15 started in Chicago and has spread to 50 cities including Seattle. At SeaTac Airport, baggage handlers, shop workers, and folks transporting people using wheelchairs, are all asking for a $15 minimum wage to provide for their families.
As a country, we say that all work is honorable, no job is beneath anyone, and that if you show up and do your best, you will be rewarded. Not if you are a low wage worker. Nancy Salgado confronted the U.S. president of McDonald’s and asked “It’s really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day. Do you think this is fair, that I have to be making $8.25 when I’ve worked for McDonald’s for ten years?” She was ticketed for trespassing.
McDonald’s minimum wage employees recently received a Practical Money Skills Budget Journal. Perhaps this is their answer to Nancy’s question. But it’s not exactly going to help her situation. To begin with, the sample income is NOT based on a full-time minimum wage (more like 2 minimum wage incomes). Their example doesn’t include groceries or childcare, and healthcare is a hilarious $20 monthly expense. Rent is only $600 a month. Where is this city? The smiling teenager on the front of the budget journal does not represent the vast majority of people working minimum wage jobs. It is adults (and more women than men) who are trying to make a living and care for children on minimum wage. $15 an hour is closer to what it actually takes to support a working family.
When you support a $15 minimum wage, you are also helping women and children live violence-free lives. People are always telling women who are in abusive relationships to leave—don’t stay for money, leave because your life will improve and you will be a better parent. But that’s not true if you walk out the door into homelessness. So they tell them: go get a job, find an apartment, find childcare, get new credit cards, open another bank account. Oh, your partner trashed your credit? You must not be trying hard enough.
$15 an hour means you can take care of yourself and your children and you won’t have to face the decision of either returning to an abusive relationship or becoming homeless. We all benefit when everyone around us can go to bed each night knowing that they can provide a loving home and have the resources to face whatever lies ahead.
I’ve had the government shutdown on my mind for the last couple of weeks (like many of you, I’m sure). As I’m writing this, it looks like there is an agreement in the works, and just in the nick of time because it was about to get even uglier for women. But I don’t want to get into that. Let’s think happy thoughts…thoughts of Obamacare.
Obamacare doesn’t stir warm fuzzy feelings in your heart? It’s actually called the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Better? No? OK, full disclosure; I have mixed feelings about it as well. But something that does warm my heart is to know that many folks who were unable to afford health insurance before will be able to get it now. This will undoubtedly include people who are dealing with abuse in their lives. Access to healthcare for survivors of domestic violence is key to getting and staying healthy, healing from the physical and emotional wounds of abuse, keeping a job and income flowing…I could go on.
It’s part of my job to think about the implementation of Obamacare and how it affects those who are experiencing abuse. Here’s what I know:
Washington State, after a rocky opening day, has one of the best working systems for implementing the ACA in the country right now.
The ACA gives financial incentives for health care professionals to screen patients for domestic violence and refer them to local supportive services.
This is all really good news for survivors of abuse in Washington. But, there is still a lot we don’t know about the system and how it will (or won’t) work for those dealing with abuse, like:
Tax credits are awesome, when you can get them. To get this one you have to file jointly if you are married. That’s going to be a problem for many married survivors.
What exactly happens to the information entered into the Health Benefits Exchange, the marketplace for those purchasing private coverage? As an advocate, I know how important it can be to keep information confidential if someone’s abuser is stalking them.
How safe is this system for undocumented mothers trying to get healthcare for their children? Can the feds access and use information from this process to track immigration status?
Who is teaching medical professionals how to screen for domestic violence? Are they considering a person’s safety when asking these questions (like not asking in front of their partner)?
Sigh. So many questions and only 24 hours in the day. There is still a lot that remains to be seen about how Obamacare will ultimately fare, but I’m optimistic. And overwhelmed. But mostly, optimistic.
Since Labor Day, I’ve been reading a lot about our country’s minimum wage. This is probably not a newsflash (but just so we’re clear), it’s at $7.25, and is not a livable wage. Even here in Washington State, where our minimum wage is the highest in the country at $9.19, it falls short for many working families. The Self Sufficiency Standard calculates what it actually takes to make ends meet in each county. It takes into consideration things like household members’ ages, and cost of housing, food, and childcare. For example, a single mother with 2 kids in Seattle needs to make $26.94 an hour to meet the needs of her family. That same mom in Pend Oreille county needs an hourly wage of $16.33. Even for two working parents, the minimum wage doesn’t work. In Seattle, two working parents with two kids would each need to make $14.58 an hour. In Pend Oreille, more than $10 an hour each.
Back in 1963, one of the things protesters who marched on Washington demanded was a $2.00 minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $15.26 today. Recently we have again seen workers rise up against inadequate wages. Fast food employees are asking for a $15 minimum wage. President Obama has mentioned raising it to $9 and some members of Congress have proposed over $10. I’m not one to regularly read the Bloomberg report, but I came across this article from a self-described Capitalist who fully supports a significant minimum wage hike. He argues that “the fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have no money, businesses have no customers. That’s why the extreme, and widening, wealth gap in our economy presents not just a moral challenge, but an economic one, too.”
Some argue against this, claiming these are “entry level” jobs that are starting points, not places to stay long-term and support a family. But when we look at who is earning minimum wage, we see that the vast majority are adults and most of those adults are women.
We have to ask ourselves, what do we value? If you (and your partner) work, should you be able to afford the basics for your family? If you’re in an abusive relationship, should you be able to earn enough so that money doesn’t factor in to whether you stay or go? A higher minimum wage could mean freedom, safety, and security for those experiencing abuse. And I’m all for that.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW)* is currently in the middle of their collective bargaining efforts. Why should you care? Because the big name grocery stores are proposing to eliminate health benefits for part-time workers. Even worse, they are asking workers to waive their right to paid sick leave (if they work in Seattle) and any rights to paid sick leave that local or state government might pass in the future.
WHAT?!?—you rightfully exclaim, shocked that the folks who handle the food we eat wouldn’t be given access to healthcare to stay healthy, or paid sick leave so they don’t contaminate the lettuce.
But wait, what does this have to do with domestic violence?
I’m so glad you asked. Like I’ve said before, money (and jobs) have a lot to do with domestic violence. There are plenty of grocery store employees whose jobs are helping them survive violence in their relationships. Their jobs provide healthcare (even for part-time workers), a wage that they can live on, and for those who live in Seattle (and hopefully soon for everyone else), paid sick leave. Paid sick/safe leave in Seattle also allows workers to take time off to deal with domestic violence (like if they need to go to court, relocate, or go to support group). So you see, these benefits can play a critical role in the lives of those experiencing abuse. I recently heard a worker at a UFCW event share how her job was the thing that helped her get out of an abusive relationship. She said that without an income and health insurance for her kids she would never have made the decision to leave.
So what can you do about it? Excellent question.
Let the workers at your local union-represented grocery store know that you support their efforts to have healthcare and paid sick leave. Let the manager know that you are a regular customer and you expect their employees will have a contract that does just that. Get the word out that we need to support good jobs in our communities. Good jobs help survivors stay safe!