Giving degrees the third degree

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.

job-descriptionAccording 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.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Many powerful tributes have been written this week on Nelson Mandela’s leadership and legacy. This one discusses what he did for South African women’s freedom and equality.

Sexual assault is so common that we all need to know what’s helpful (and not helpful) to say. This article gives some important insights into what people who have been sexually assaulted go through.

In money news, voters have approved a raise in the minimum wage to $15/hour for workers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

Don’t overthink it, $15 an hour could fix a lot

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.

American_Flag_&_SloganAs 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.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • RH Reality Check has a great article about abusers and guns: “ the risk of homicide against women increases 500 percent when a gun is present in domestic violence situations.”

The bare minimum

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. minimum-wage-chart

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.