Monday is Labor Day in the U.S. – a holiday formally inaugurated in 1894 to pay tribute to the American labor movement. While today it marks the end of summer and an excuse for one last barbecue, it’s also a valuable reminder that there is much more work to be done to ensure fair, safe and equal opportunity to work in the U.S.
Below, we rounded up some of the biggest debates and latest news on hot button labor topics. Take a read through and get ready for some smart small talk at the family picnic this weekend.
- The Minimum Wage: Earlier this year, New York and California put plans in motion to raise the state minimum wage to between $12.50 (for most of NY state) and $15 an hour (NYC and CA) over the next several years. Experts are still split on whether a Federal law will have net positive or negative impacts on the economy and employment. The American people, however, are largely in support of the move – 59 percent support a $15/hour minimum wage according to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (and 79 percent support a $10.10/hour minimum wage). Outside of state and federal laws, some companies are making moves to raise their minimum wages, including Gas South in Atlanta.
- Equal pay: A report released earlier this year from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee notes that, without a major change, we cannot expect elimination of the gender pay gap until 2059. The “79 cents to the dollar” refrain is a familiar rallying cry, but the reality is even more complex for women of color. NOW’s Equal Pay Days campaign highlights the extra time that women of different races would have to work to earn as much as a man does in a year. For example, August 23rd marked Black Women’s Equal Pay Day – in other words, “because black women earn 60 percent of what their white male counterparts do…it takes approximately eight additional months for them to reach pay parity with white men.” President Obama moved to add some much needed transparency to pay with an executive action requiring all companies with 100 or more employees to report worker pay by gender, race and ethnicity to the EEOC. Companies will be required to report this data as of March 2018, for the prior year. And, just this month, Massachusetts became the first state to ban employers from asking job applicants about their salary histories until after a job offer is made. The law also mandates equal pay for “comparable” work.
- Paid family leave: Currently, only three states (CA, NJ and RI) provide paid family leave for all workers. This month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced The Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program, which will provide funding to six states and municipalities to research the cost and implications of instituting 12 weeks of paid family leave for residents (compared to the existing Family Medical Leave policy that offers 12 weeks of job-protected time off). Today, only 58 percent of large U.S. firms offer any kind of paid maternity leave. And just 12 percent offer paid leave that covers other situations – such as caring for a child or sick family member.
- “Gig” Economy: Just five years ago it was estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the workforce fell into the “contingent” category – freelance, temp and part-time. With the widespread adoption of services like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and TaskRabbit, this number is likely much higher today. The “gig” economy is in full swing. Supporters say that this new model offers greater flexibility to workers, at the same time that it better fills consumers’ needs. And the down side? Low wages, unpredictability of income streams, lack of benefits or protections (for example, income insurance, unemployment benefits) for workers, and limited ability to save – 70 percent of contingent workers reported having no long-term savings at all, compared to 25 percent of all Americans. To address this issue, in July, the U.S. Department of Labor announced new grants for nonprofits to develop portable retirement savings plans for these workers. And many tech companies agree, posting a letter of public support, alongside policymakers and academics.
- Education: This year’s presidential debates have had a lot to say about the price of higher education. Outstanding college debt totals more than $1.3 trillion, at the same time that an advanced degree is more important than ever. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, 66 percent more over their lifetime than those with a high school diploma only. Many companies are starting to address this issue internally, and seeing benefits – a study by the Lumina Foundation analyzed Cigna Corp’s Education Reimbursement Program and found that participating employees were more likely to be promoted, retained or transferred within the company. For every dollar invested, Cigna is estimated to realize $1.29 in savings. Many others, including Starbucks, United Technologies, Ford, UPS and many more, offer reimbursements for certain education expenses.