DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

Good Work State Legislature! That Pay Gap Sure Does Need To Go.

Though the New York State legislature was unable to come to an agreement on hot-button bills like the New York City congestion pricing plan and legalizing gay marriage before the session ended last week, another, more modest piece of legislation was passed by both the Senate and Assembly a couple of weeks ago, and is currently awaiting Governor Spitzer's signature. A3366 and S3201 are designed to curb the cycle of poverty that centers around people leaving welfare no better skilled - and thus no better able to land jobs that pay living wages - than they were before they needed public assistance.

I just want to stop for a second and applaud this bill. For those of us who've received public assistance and who work with poor families every day, it's a big, big deal to even see language like this come from a bill's sponsors:

"In the rush to reduce welfare rolls under federal welfare reform, many welfare recipients have been placed in low-paying jobs. In particular, initial studies of women moving from welfare to work indicate that the vast majority of women move into jobs that do not lift them and their children out of poverty. These jobs are typically in industries, such as food service and home health care, which are traditionally populated by women workers."

A few things are at play here. People receiving welfare are being funneled into low-paying jobs. This problem is even more acute for women, because the process of being funneled into into low-paying work is compounded by being funneled into traditionally female-dominated industries, which pay less than male-dominated industries across the board. Oh, and then there's the fact that women make 77 cents to the man's dollar for equal work.

The whole situation pretty much amounts to layers and layers of barriers between a person leaving public assistance and the possibility of making a living wage.

When it comes to rectifying these problems - at least as far as welfare policy is concerned - this bill provides a modest solution, one option for getting the ball rolling forward.

The purpose of the bill is to require social services districts to consider education and training for sustainable wage jobs and nontraditional employment opportunities in their public assistance employment programs. Those receiving public assistance will be assessed for skills and given employment plans that take into consideration jobs which will pay at least 185% of poverty line, currently $13,690 for a family of two. "Nontraditional employment" means jobs whose makeup consists of less than 25% women, and are usually eschewed by social service agencies, who primarily refer women receiving public assistance to lower-paying, female dominated positions such as child-care jobs, nail technicians, and bank tellers. Skilled trade occupations that pay more—by 20 to 30 percent—are overwhelmingly male.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of welfare policy, gender-segregated job referral systems are a huge problem. Welfare policy is important for individual families to mitigate economic crises and to help people work their way into economic security. After family crises are stabilized, it's important that people receiving welfare have access to living wage jobs. And it's exactly this access that this new law will address. As the bill's sponsors write, "A 2001 study of job training for low-income people, particularly women leaving welfare, found a clear pattern of gender segregation in job training referral and placements. Programs training for jobs as bank teller and nail technician had 100% female enrollment, while programs training for higher paying jobs such as appliance technician and automotive technician had overwhelming male enrollments."

New York State has a role in the development of lifelong skills for the long-term economic security of all New Yorkers, people receiving welfare included. Welfare law allows for 30% of people receiving public assistance in each state to be in education and training programs. New York's training and education programs are currently under capacity by almost 20%, so this bill will fill a much-needed roll of inspiring local service agencies to increase their focus on education and training for nontraditional employment and all jobs that pay a living wage.

This bill is assuredly a step in the right direction towards rectifying the problems facing women receiving public assistance. And the Governor should sign it into law.

But the conversation can't stop there. This bill is an incremental step. Pay equity is still a long time coming. We do need job training integrally connected to our public assistance programs, and we need to change the rates of women entering low-paying jobs. This bill does some important work, but it's got to be remembered that the pay gap remains overwhelmingly unchanged, and leaves women with another day, another 77 cents.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:42 PM, Jun 26, 2007 in Welfare
Permalink | Email to Friend