Washington – As President Obama prepares to speak to the needs of working women during the White House Summit on Working Families, a new report from public policy organization Demos highlights the role the federal government plays in the growing problem of income inequality. The new research reveals that the U.S. government is the largest funder of low-wage jobs for women through contracts, loans, concession agreements, and leases. Women make up 7 in 10 of low-wage federally-contracted workers. But the report also points to a chance for the President to put more than 20 million low-wage women, men, and their families on the path to the middle class with the stroke of a pen.
“Today, addressing the needs of women in the workplace means addressing the needs of low-wage workers,” said Liz Watson, Senior Counsel and Director of Workplace Justice for Women at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). “That is because women make up the lion’s share of workers in low-wage jobs—indeed, women are 76 percent of workers earning $10.10 per hour or less. And 35 percent of women’s job gains during the recovery have been in the ten largest low-wage occupations – as compared to 18 percent of men’s.”
The report, Underwriting Good Jobs, urges the Obama Administration to take bolder executive action to address income inequality. Instead of using taxpayer dollars to fund low-wage jobs that create a drain on the economy, the President could harness federal purchasing power – more than $1.3 trillion annually – to create good jobs in the private sector.
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“I’m glad the President signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federally-contracted workers to $10.10 an hour, but the truth is that’s still not enough for moms like me,” said Monica Martinez, a mother of two, who makes $12 an hour serving food at Union Station in Washington and works a second job. “Even with a second job, I can’t afford rent – let alone help my children pay for college. President Obama should give working women a voice at work and allow us to form a union so we don’t need to strike to be heard and can collectively bargain for a living wage, health care benefits, and paid time off.”
Specifically, the report finds that President Obama could put 8 million workers and their families (21 million people) on the path to the middle class by signing a Good Jobs Executive Order that ensures taxpayer dollars go to companies that:
· Allow workers to collectively bargain for higher pay and benefits without having to strike to be heard;
· Provide living wages and benefits;
· Don’t break labor and employment laws; and
· Don’t have outsized CEO salaries.
The release of this report comes just a week after the Labor Department announced a proposed rule to implement the President’s minimum wage executive order, which will boost the pay of 200,000 federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. On the same day, hundreds of these low-wage workers sent a letter to the Administration saying $10.10 isn’t adequate to support their families.
“If President Obama truly wants to address income inequality, rebuild the middle class, and help working women and their families, he needs to make sure lucrative government contracts go to good employers like Costco ,” said Rev. Michael Livingston, former President of the National Council of Churches and Policy Director for Interfaith Worker Justice. “Tax payer dollars should incentivize good actors that give Americans a shot at the American Dream – not corporations that keep workers in poverty, like Wal-Mart.”
President Obama has declared that growing income inequality is “the defining challenge of our time” and that it’s time for a “women’s economic agenda that grows our economy for everyone.” Additionally, Democrats all over the country are running their mid-term campaigns on raising wages and women’s economic issues. This new report provides the President and democrats with a practical roadmap to tackle the twin crises of income inequality and low-wage women’s employment before the President leaves the Oval Office.
By using the power of federal contracting during moments of national crisis, Presidents have invoked their executive powers and met those challenges head on. During World War II, an army of women entered factories and shipyards to take up work for federal contractors in the defense industry. Faced with pay discrimination and other abuses, women joined unions in record numbers and waged strikes to demand a say in working conditions and win improvements on the factory floor. Rosie the Riveter remains the iconic image of these women’s strength and determination. And when Rosie spoke out, the government listened. President Roosevelt used his executive powers over contracting to ensure that federal contractors recognized unions without forcing workers to go out on strike. These female federally contracted low-wage workers are today’s Rosies.