Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘women’s issues’

John Kasich explains the gender pay gap: 'Do you not have the skills to be able to compete?'

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Laura ClawsonRest easy, women, and especially women of color: If you’re being paid less than your male coworkers, it’s only because you’re worth less. Ohio governor and lower-second-tier Republican presidential candidate John Kasich got a question about his state’s gender pay gap during his appearance at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and …

“Well, a lot of it is based on experience,” Kasich replied. “A lot of different factors go into it. It’s all tied up in skills. Do you not have the skills to be able to compete?”Seeming somewhat shocked at this response, Palomarez asked, “Are you saying women workers are less skilled than men?”

“No, no, of course not,” Kasich said. “I mean, a woman is now running my campaign, and she’s doing a fantastic job. The head of our welfare reform office is a woman. I understand that if you exclude women, you’re not as effective.”

No, no, of course I didn’t mean what I said. That kind of answer must be contagious, as much as we’re hearing it from Republicans lately. Alice Ollstein helpfully offers some context on just how much Kasich didn’t mean that women deserve lower pay:

In Kasich’s own governor’s office, women workers earn nearly $10 an hour less than male workers, according to an Associated Press investigation published in 2014. That gap was just $3.99 an hour under Kasich’s predecessor, Democrat Ted Strickland.

So apparently Kasich understands that if you exclude women, you’re not as effective—but he’s also happy to underpay them. Gee, there’s a giant step toward equality.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

The Right To Birth Control Just Won Its Most Significant Victory To Date In A Post-Hobby Lobby Case

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Ian Millhiser Judge Jerry Smith is a deeply conservative judge. He once voted to allow a man to be executed despite the fact that the man’s lawyer slept through much of his trial. He’s a reliable vote against abortion rights. And he once described feminists as a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

So when Judge Smith writes an opinion protecting women’s access to birth control, even when their employer objects to contraception on religious grounds, that’s a very big deal.

East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell is a consolidated batch of cases, handed down on Monday, involving religious employers who object to some or all forms of birth control. These employers are entitled to an accommodation exempting them from federal rules requiring them to offer birth control coverage to their employees. Most of them may invoke this accommodation simply by filling out a form or otherwise informing the federal government of their objection and naming the company that administers their employer health plan. At this point, the government works separately with that company to ensure that the religious employer’s workers receive contraception coverage through a separate health plan.

Several lawsuits are working their way through the federal courts which raise the same legal argument at issue here. In essence, the employers claim that filling out the form that exempts them from having to provide birth control makes them complicit in their employee’s eventual decision to use contraception, and so the government cannot require them to fill out this form. So far, every single federal appeals court to consider this question has sided with the Obama administration and against religious employers who object to this accommodation.

Few judges on any court, however, are as conservative as Judge Jerry Smith, a Reagan appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit whose law clerks frequently go on to clerk for the most conservative members of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Smith makes short work of the claim that the fill-out-a-form accommodation burdens religious liberty.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides that the federal government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in limited circumstances. Applying this language, Smith writes in a unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that “[t]he plaintiffs must show that the challenged regulations substantially burden their religious exercise, but they have not done so.”

The crux of Smith’s analysis is that the plaintiffs in these cases object to birth control, but nothing in the law requires these plaintiffs to do anything whatsoever involving birth control. Rather, their only obligation, if they do not wish to cover birth control, is to fill out a form or send a brief letter to the federal government — and neither of those things are contraception.

“Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing or facilitating access to contraceptives,” Smith explains. “Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties.” Specifically, the plaintiffs object to the federal government working with an insurance administrator to provide contraception to certain workers. But the law does not “entitle them to block third parties from engaging in conduct with which they disagree.”

Indeed, Smith writes, if the plaintiffs in these cases were to prevail, it could lead to absurd challenges to basic government functions. “Perhaps an applicant for Social Security disability benefits disapproves of working on Sundays and is unwilling to assist others in doing so,” Smith explains. “He could challenge a requirement that he use a form to apply because the Social Security Administration might process it on a Sunday. Or maybe a pacifist refuses to complete a form to indicate his beliefs because that information would enable the Selective Service to locate eligible draftees more quickly. The possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA, intended for them to be.”

Smith’s opinion, in other words, should offer a fair amount of comfort to women whose employers seek to cut off their access to birth control coverage. Though there are signs that at least some of the justices would like for the plaintiffs in cases like East Texas Baptist to prevail, the fact that a judge as conservative as Jerry Smith rejected their legal arguments suggests that a majority of the Supreme Court will not embrace these lawsuits.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Ian Millhiser. Ian Millhiser is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal. Ian’s first book is Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

HERvotes Turns Focus to Top Issues For Women in 2012: Health Care and Economy

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

adele_stan_140x140Listen to the conventional wisdom, and you’ll hear that women have fared better than men in the recent recession. In reality, women are not only shouldering the burden of being the sole breadwinner in more families than ever before, they also account for the majority of public-sector layoffs. Single mothers and women in communities of color continue to suffer rising unemployment of more than 12 percent.

Against that backdrop, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), as part of a coalition of 40 national organizations, is launching HERvotes, a nonpartisan campaign to mobilize women around the pressing issues of health and economic rights.

While it’s true that the initial rounds of layoffs after the housing bubble burst in 2007 and the stock market crashed in 2008 hit men harder than women, men have now benefitted significantly from the jobs added to the economy in the ensuing years. As CLUW Executive Director Carol Rosenblatt notes in a post on the HERvotes blog:

According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, women lost 46,000 jobs from December 2007 – June 2009 while men gained 1.26 million.

She also notes that women comprise nearly 64 percent of laid-off public-sector workers — a number disproportionate to their 57 percent representation in the public-sector workforce. (See our report, here.)

Drawing from the stories of unemployed people that appear on the AFL-CIO
site where jobless workers are relating their stories, Rosenblatt highlights the comments of two women among those ranks, including a poignant entry from a Pennsylvania woman named Juli, who writes:

Without unemployment, I have no way to feed my two sons, to pay our rent, to try and find another job.

Rosenblatt’s post appeared in a HERvotes blog carnival, part of a campaign to get Congress to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits to those whose benefits are about to expire in January.

One way you can participate, via Twitter, is to retweet these, which both HERvotes and MomsRising have been sending from their Twitter accounts:

Call Congress: 888-245-3381 Tell your Rep to oppose @RepDaveCamp bill #HR3630 to slash unemployment ins. #extendUI #HERvotes PlsRT

#Unemployment Insurance=critical 4 #women! TAKEACTION:EZ Click-to-call: http://j.mp/uZOqhp Tell Congress #ExtendUI Oppose HR 3630 #HERvotes

#ExtendUI#Women speak up 4 #unemployed workers #HERvotes blog carnival http://t.co/kfQlC0qA

The HERvotes actions also included taking part in last week’s prayer vigil for jobless workers and a Friday gathering on Capitol Hill focusing on unemployment that featured Eleanor Smeal, president, Feminist Majority; Linda Hallman, executive director, American Association of University Women (AAUW); Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC); Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW); Gloria Lau, CEO, YWCA USA; Donna Norton, national campaign director of Mom’s Rising; Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and CLUW President Karen See. After the event, many of the participants joined in a prayer vigil that took place outside the U.S. Capitol Building.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on December 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Adele Stan is a journalist and lifelong member of the labor movement, reports on a timely forum on inequality and jobs at Georgetown University today.

Women, Black Workers Hard Hit by Attacks on Public Employees

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Credit: Joe Kekeris

The improved jobs figures out last Friday obscured the ongoing decline in public-sector jobs. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted when releasing the March unemployment data:

Employment in local government continued to trend down over the month. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008.

The loss of such jobs is important because the nation’s well-being depends not only on job numbers increasing, but on the creation of quality jobs—those that pay decent wages and enable people to attain or maintain a middle-class life. According to National Employment Law Project (NELP), the new jobs being created aren’t as good as the ones that have been lost. NELP found that jobs in lower wage industries, such as retail and food preparation, made up 23 percent of the jobs that were lost in the recent recession. Yet they made up 49 percent of the jobs the economy has gained in the past year. As the BBC Business puts it:

In other words, it appears that while people may finally be returning to work, they have to work for less pay.

In contrast, jobs in the public sector have provided such economic stability. They have also made it possible for some of the nation’s most economically marginalized—women and minorities—to achieve financial security often denied them in the private sector.

So attacks on public employees hit women and black workers especially hard.

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine, writes that:

employees at the federal (43 percent female), state (53 percent female) and local (61 percent female) levels have been able to better resist the wage reductions, benefit cuts and mass lay-offs that giant multinational corporations have visited upon employees over the last decade.

Yet Feiner finds that “while women represented 57 percent of the public-sector work force at the end of the recession,”

women lost the vast majority—79 percent—of the 327,000 jobs cut in this sector between July 2009 and February 2011, according to a January report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, writes today about the striking results of his new research brief, Blacks and the Public Sector. In sum:

  • The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.
  • During 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.
  • The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for black worker.  For both men and women, the median wage earned by black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
  • Prior to the recession, the wage differential between black and white workers was less in the public sector than in the overall economy.

As California Progress Report writes:

For blacks and others, “the best anti-poverty program is union organizing,” the UC Berkeley Labor Center notes on its website.”

And so moves by Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio to shred the ability of public employees to bargain for a decent middle-class life are also specifically targeting the ability of women and black workers to remain in the economic mainstream.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (she was represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

This blog originally was post on AFL-CIO on April 5, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers

Friday, April 1st, 2011

bornstein_stephanieNew report documents how low-wage workers are discriminated against at work based on their caregiving responsibilities at home

A new report by U.C. Hastings’ Center for WorkLife Law details the extreme measures to which low-wage workers must go to keep a job and care for their children or elderly family members—and the sometimes shocking discrimination they face at work despite these efforts.

The first of its kind to analyze caregiver discrimination lawsuits filed by low-wage workers, the report—Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers—exposes mistreatment at work around caregiving responsibilities.  The powerful cases profiled in the report, which attracted the attention of the National Law Journal, include:

  • employees encouraged to get abortions or asked about their birth control usage, or sexually harassed because of their roles as caregivers;
  • pregnant workers fired on the spot or immediately after announcing their pregnancies, or banned from certain positions no matter what their individual capabilities;
  • workers routinely denied access to their legal rights, especially to family and medical leave;
  • employees being set up to fail, with unreasonable goals or tasks assigned to them, after caregiving responsibilities are discovered;
  • low-wage men who care for children or elderly parents subjected to extreme gender stereotyping at work; and
  • pregnant women of color denied access to accommodations regularly granted to their pregnant co-workers of a different race.

Even in family emergencies, the report shows, low-wage workers are refused the small kinds of workplace flexibility that are commonplace for middle-wage and professional workers.  One retail worker whose case is profiled in the report was fired for insubordination for carrying a water bottle at work—despite a doctor’s note recommending she do so to treat recurring urinary and bladder infections due to her pregnancy.

Ironically, small changes by employers can make a significant difference in keeping experienced employees in their jobs.  They can also prevent costly liability: several lawsuits profiled resulted in large verdicts, including four with recoveries of between $2.3 and $11.65 million, despite the plaintiffs’ (a housekeeper, a shipping dispatcher, a bakery delivery driver, and a hospital maintenance worker) low wages.

“Caregiver discrimination lawsuits brought by low-wage workers document clearly that work-family conflict is not just a professional women’s problem.  In fact, it’s most acute and extreme for low-income families,” said study author Stephanie Bornstein, Deputy Director of the Center for WorkLife Law.  “To help families move out of poverty, we can’t just focus on ‘fixing’ the worker.  We also need to look at how caregiver discrimination in low-wage jobs undercuts economic stability.  Discrimination not only hurts workers and their families; it leads to high turnover and legal liability for employers.”

Another case profiled in the report is that of a pregnant woman who was forced out of her retail sector job onto unpaid leave despite her desire to work as long as possible while pregnant.  Her supervisor had allowed her perform all of her job tasks while avoiding heavy lifting, and she was working successfully.  Yet several weeks later, when her doctor sent a letter to the company’s HR office to cement this arrangement, she was immediately sent home and told that she could not be accommodated—in violation of California law.

A soon-to-be single mother, the woman was “trying to do the best she could for her baby,” and was confused as to why she was being sent home when she wanted to work, said Jamie Dolkas, Staff Attorney at Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco, who represents the woman.  “As a low-wage worker, she was really disenfranchised….[T]hey didn’t take the time to explain to her what her rights or options were—they just gave her something in writing that essentially said we can’t accommodate you, go home,” explained Dolkas.

The report profiles 50 cases—selected from among hundreds identified by Center for WorkLife Law research—of low-wage workers who experienced discrimination at work based on their efforts to be both a good worker and a good parent or family member.

The Center for WorkLife Law is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that works with employees, employers, attorneys, unions, and policymakers to fuel social and organizational change around work-life issues.  The Center is part of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

About the Author: Stephanie Bornstein is an employment attorney and Deputy Director of WLL. Prior to joining WLL, she worked as a staff attorney at Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a public interest law center focused on gender discrimination in employment and education. At ERA, Bornstein represented plaintiffs in individual and class action employment matters, specializing in pregnancy discrimination and family and medical leave. She was also among a small group of advocates to help author and enact California’s Paid Family Leave insurance program, the nation’s first comprehensive paid leave law. In addition, Bornstein worked as a legal editor of employment law products at Nolo Press, a leading publisher of legal books for non-lawyers.

Join March 29 Rally to Support Wal-Mart Women

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Image: James ParksHundreds of people will show their support outside the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, when the High Court hears oral arguments in what could become the largest class-action civil rights suit in U.S. history.

The Stand with the Women of Wal-Mart rally will take place as the nation’s highest court hears arguments on Wal-Mart v. Dukes to decide whether the case can move forward as a class action.

Ten years ago, a group of women who worked at Wal-Mart stores, led by Betty Dukes, filed a lawsuit alleging the corporation engaged in company-wide gender discrimination by paying women less than men, promoting fewer women to management positions and promoting male employees more quickly. The case, now a class action, has made its way to the Supreme Court.

Wal-Mart is challenging the decision by a lower court to allow the women employed at Wal-Mart stores across the country to join together in a class action lawsuit to challenge pay and promotion practices that discriminate against women.

If Wal-Mart succeeds in keeping these women from joining together, the already uphill battle for women to fight pay discrimination will get even worse. But If the women prevail, their case will become the largest class-action civil rights suit in the nation’s history, with some 1.6 million female Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees.

A coalition of women’s, workers’ and religious groups are sponsoring the rally, including the AFL-CIO constituency group, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

In a statement, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), another rally sponsor, says class action can send a strong message to employers to follow the law in the first place. Lisa Maatz, AAUW’s director of public policy and government relations, says:

This case illuminates the dirty little secret that women know all too well — that pay discrimination is alive and well and undermining the economic security of American families.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and has worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This blog originally appeared in ALFCIO on March 28, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Attacking Wisconsin’s Middle Class

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Image: Linda MericMedia coverage of Madison’s thousands of demonstrators has focused on Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.  Members of 9to5, Association of Working Women have stood with those calling for fairness for working families.  But it’s clear that governor and conservative state legislators’ agenda is bigger than just union busting.  To benefit their corporate masters, they are determined to deny the American Dream to the vast majority of Wisconsinites.

Public workers don’t make big bucks but they are the backbone of the middle class.  They are teachers who tutor struggling students so they’re prepared for college, vocational school or a trade.  They are police and firefighters who protect us when the unthinkable happens.  They are nurses who vaccinate children so we no longer have polio and diphtheria epidemics.  They are $9.00/hour home health care workers helping individuals live in their homes with dignity.  They keep the economy humming by paying their mortgages, buying groceries and purchasing clothes items that keep our Main Street small businesses afloat.

Throughout the years, public employees and their unions have accepted lower paychecks to defer money to their pensions and health care.  Despite this, they’ve agreed to wage and benefit concessions to help do their share in balancing the state budget.

In sharp contrast to their “jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign promises, Wisconsin Republicans are pushing tax breaks to corporations and the rich that will decimate the state’s budget revenue.  To pay for their millionaire friends’ favors, they propose to cut already stretched-thin funding for education, police, firefighters and human services, all provided by public employees.

In a now-public recorded call to Gov. Walker in which a journalist pretended to be anti-union billionaire David Koch, the men discuss plans to threaten public workers with layoffs, attempts to divide public and private sector unions, and their hope that their anti-union efforts could spread nationwide.

Let’s be clear: This showdown is NOT about balancing the state budget.  It’s about union busting, pure and simple.  The upshot of these efforts is to take away power and family-supporting jobs from working families.

Meanwhile, Gov. Walker and allied legislators have launched other attacks on all working families in both the public and private sectors.  Their budget gives themselves the power to slash health care – a key middle class support – for the 1.1 million Wisconsinites relying on Medicaid.

They’ve proposed rolling back Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act.  Employees working less than 25 hours per week would no longer be eligible for family leave, and employers could deny the use of accrued sick time to cover lost pay.  Many would be forced to take unpaid leave for emergencies, putting their homes, families and even their jobs at risk.

In an end run around Milwaukee’s paid sick days policy, passed by 70% of that city’s voters in 2008, these legislators have introduced a bill to prevent municipalities from enacting paid sick days laws.

Proponents of these measures suggest they’re needed to boost industry and jobs but Wisconsin’s biggest companies are thriving, even through the recession.  Mercury Marine reported profits of $1.1 billion between 2000-2007 while paying nothing in state corporate income taxes.  Harley-Davidson’s profits have increased – profits The New York Times documented as “…mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy.”  Nevertheless, hearing the mantra of “you’re lucky to have jobs,” Harley workers were forced to take pay cuts.

The Governor and allied legislators are pulling the rug out from under middle class families because they want to bust unions and strip hard-won protections like health care, family leave and paid sick days from workers to enrich their corporate campaign contributors.

It’s time for people across Wisconsin and the nation to stand up for working families against policies that would degrade their pay and security.

About the Author: Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them.

Six Tips for Women Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Image: Peri PakrooMore women than ever before are grabbing the reins and starting their own businesses. The number of women-owned small businesses is growing approximately twice as quickly as the national average for all start-ups.

For entrepreneurs of all stripes — women and men included — the pre-start-up phase is typically characterized by a flood of questions about what exactly it takes to make it in business. Are there different answers to these questions for men versus women? Not really. Every business needs to be based on a solid idea, aimed at a profitable market or niche, have solid systems in place, and market itself effectively. And of course, the legal and bureaucratic rules facing women entrepreneurs are exactly the same as those facing men.

But as many women business owners will tell you, the road to success for women often involves its own unique set of curves. Surveys of women business owners show that women’s business concerns tend to skew towards issues such as finding work-life balance, start-up (or expansion) financing, and marketing. The following tips address some of the issues and concerns that are most commonly faced by women entrepreneurs.

1. Start a business that works for you and fits with your personal life. There are no rules as to what a “real” business looks like. For some businesspeople, success might mean an international operation with hundreds of employees and annual revenues in the tens of millions. For others, a small consulting firm or artisan business that pays a healthy salary and allows generous personal freedom might be considered the pinnacle of success. The key is to take the time early in the planning process to consider this question and decide for yourself what your ideal vision is for your business and your personal life.

2. Don’t sweat the bureaucracy. A lot of would-be entrepreneurs, women and men alike, find themselves stuck on the verge of taking the leap into starting a business, but confused about how to tackle the legal rules of getting started. This hang-up is always grounded more in fear than reality; the truth is that clearing the bureaucratic hurdles isn’t usually big deal.

You can usually start a sole proprietorship (the legal term for a one-owner business) or a partnership (a business with more than one owner) by registering with just one government office. And for business owners who want protection from personal liability for business debts — often referred to by the legal jargon “limited liability” — the simplest corporations or limited liability companies (LLCs) require only a couple more registration tasks to complete.

Of course, there’s a lot more to launching a successful small business than dealing with bureaucratic requirements. For starters, you’ll need to have a sound business idea, and you’ll need to be able to develop good management skills to guide it to success. This is where you should put your mental energy and good ideas; don’t waste precious brain cells worrying about the legal hurdles.

3. For businesses with moderate to significant overhead, it is crucial to start the business with adequate funds. Starting a business without enough money to ride out the early lean days (described as “undercapitalization”) is the most common reason that businesses fail. Undercapitalization is less of an issue with small service-based businesses that don’t have many fixed expenses. But businesses with overhead such as rent, salaries for employees, utility bills, inventory, equipment, insurance, or other fixed costs absolutely need to plan carefully and pull together enough funding to support the fledgling business as it works up to speed.

Also, though it’s important to start your business with enough capital, that doesn’t mean that every business needs piles and piles of money to get off the ground. Plenty of mega-successful businesses were started on a shoestring: Apple Computer started in a garage; Hewlett-Packard started in the dining room of the Packard home; the list goes on and on. Generally speaking, a business that can find creative, thrifty ways to provide its product or service — especially in its early days — will typically find more success than a business that adopts a “spend more money” approach.

4. If you need start-up or expansion financing, consider sources other than traditional banks. One of the concerns most commonly cited by women entrepreneurs is difficulty finding start-up financing. And it’s little wonder: traditional banks typically don’t lend money to new ventures that don’t have a track record of success or creditworthiness. Instead of focusing on conventional big-chain banks, start-ups should instead look for local community banks, credit unions, and other local financial institutions that have a vested interest in the health of the local economy. Often, their application processes and criteria are softer than the big banks.

Two resources that women should definitely look into are Women’s Business Centers and community development financial institutions. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) exist nationwide and focus on supporting women entrepreneurs through business training and counseling, and access to credit and capital, among other services. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which are certified by the U.S. Treasury, are a fast-growing segment of the business financing market specializing in loans to underserved communities and populations. CDFIs usually — but not always — have a specific focus such as improving economic opportunities in blighted communities or supporting women- or minority-owned entrepreneurs. Both WBCs and CDFIs can be especially helpful for start-ups, businesses with poor credit, and businesses seeking relatively small loans, generally up to $100,000. Even better, they often offer guidance and expertise to your business in addition to financing, which will help your chances of success.

As an example, the fabulous nonprofit where I teach entrepreneurship classes — WESST in Albuquerque — is both a WBC and a CDFI. It offers a wide range of high-quality classes on business planning, financial management, and marketing, plus offers loans and one-on-one counseling. With an organization like WESST on its side, a business gets a major boost in its chances of success.

5. Network like a social butterfly — it is one of the best ways to market your business and create profitable opportunities. Networking involves actively cultivating relationships with people, businesses, community leaders, and others who present possible opportunities for your business — not just as potential customers, but also as vendors, partners, investors, or other roles. Remember, networking is not the same thing as sales! Rather than the simple goal of making a sale, a huge goal of networking is to inform other businesspeople and influential people about what you do in hopes that they will recommend your business to their circle of contacts.

I look at networking more as a self-employed lifestyle than a specific activity. You are “networking” every time you attend an event held by a local trade association, get to know other business owners and community leaders, send an email introducing two of your contacts to each other, write a letter to the editor, participate in an online discussion group, or have lunch with another local business owner.

6. Forge relationships with contacts before you need help from them. For example, if you need the support of a local politician on an upcoming city zoning decision, you’ll have a better chance of getting the politician’s vote if he or she already knows you and thinks favorably of your business than if you place a call to his or her office out of the blue.

© 2010 Peri H. Pakroo J.D., author of The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide

About the Author: Peri Pakroo is a business and communications consultant, specializing in legal and start-up issues for businesses and nonprofits. She has started, participated in, and consulted with start-up businesses for 20 years. She is the author of The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit (Nolo) and top-selling business books. Her blog is at www.peripakroo.com.

Surge in Women’s Employment Brings Unemployment Rate Down to 9.7 Percent

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Image: Dean BakerThe index of total hours worked is below the November 1997 level.

The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January, driven by a 0.4 percentage-point drop in the unemployment rate for women to 8.4 percent. The unemployment rate for men fell 0.2 percentage points to 10.8 percent. This drop came in spite of a reported loss of 20,000 jobs in the establishment survey.

The improved employment picture was primarily a story for adult white women. Their unemployment rate fell by 0.6 percentage points to 6.8 percent, while their employment rate (EPOP) rose by 0.6 percentage points to 56.1 percent. The unemployment rate for black women rose slightly to 13.3 percent, although their EPOP also rose 0.2 percentage points to 54.7 percent. It is striking that the EPOP for white women is now 1.4 percentage points higher than for black women. Until last summer it had always been lower, although the gap had been narrowing over the last three decades.

For blacks overall, January was a bad month. The unemployment rate rose to 16.5 percent, the highest of the downturn. The unemployment rate for black men rose a full percentage point to 17.6 percent, also a high for the downturn.

By education group, the big winners were people with some college, who saw 1.2 percentage-point increase in their EPOP. There was little change in the EPOPs for other groups. Workers over age 55 continued to fare best, accounting for 178,000 of the 541,000 increase in employment. Women over age 55 accounted for 140,000 of these jobs.

In addition to the gains in employment, the household survey also showed a sharp fall in the number of people involuntarily working part-time, from 9,055,000 to 8,193,000. The U-6 measure of labor market slack correspondingly fell from 17.3 percent to 16.5 percent. It is also worth noting that the percentage of the unemployed who have voluntarily quit their job has edged up to 6.1 percent. This is still very low, but somewhat better than the 5.6 percent reported last summer, suggesting somewhat greater confidence in the labor market.

The establishment data look somewhat less positive. Not only do the data continue to show job loss, but the job loss over the last three months (Oct-Dec) was revised upward by 102,000, giving an average job loss of 103,000 per month over this period. Without 33,000 temporary census jobs, the establishment survey would have shown a loss of 53,000 jobs for January.

However, even in the establishment survey there are some positive signs. Manufacturing employment increased by 11,000, the first gain since January of 2007. This was fully explained by a 22,700 rise in auto employment. While this may not be repeated, it is likely that manufacturing employment has finally bottomed out.

Retail trade added 42,100 jobs, although this may be a seasonal anomaly with fewer people than normal hired in the holiday season and therefore fewer layoffs in January. Employment services showed another big increase, adding 52,000 jobs in January. This is consistent with a picture of employees getting ready to add permanent employees. Hours worked also increased, with the index of aggregate hours rising from 97.9 to 98.2.

Aggregate Weekly Hours

However, there were also many negative aspects to the establishment data. Construction lost another 75,000 jobs, the vast majority in non-residential construction.  State and local governments shed 41,000 jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector shed 14,000 jobs. Even health care seems to be weakening as a bastion of employment growth, adding just 14,500 jobs in January.

The benchmark revisions show the downturn to be even deeper than previously believed. The revised data show a loss of 8,424,000 from the peak in December of 2007.  Over the decade from January 2000 to January 2010, the economy actually lost 1,254,000 jobs.  The economy lost 2,100,000 construction jobs (27.2 percent) since the peak in August of 2006 and 2,467,000 manufacturing jobs since the decline began in January 2007. The index of hours worked is below the November 1997 level.

On the whole, there is some positive news in this report, with the household survey showing a much brighter picture than the establishment survey. It is possible that the birth/death data could now be understating job growth.

*This article originally appeared in CEPR on February 5, 2009.

About the Author: Dean Baker is the Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. CEPR’s Jobs Byte is published each month upon release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment report. For more information or to subscribe by fax or email contact CEPR at 202-293-5380 ext. 102, or chinku [at] cepr [dot] net.

A Year After Ledbetter - What’s Next for Fair Pay for Women?

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

One year ago, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, ensuring that workers can go to court to protest pay discrimination. Now it’s time for the next step.

For almost twenty years, I got paid less than my co-workers. I was a woman doing the same work as the men on my team — and apparently, my gender was all the excuse my employers at a Goodyear tire plant needed to cut my paychecks. My salary was far lower, and I got lower raises – over and over again.

But one year ago today, to my amazement, the President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, which restored the law to make sure workers can go to court to protest pay discrimination.

And now it’s time for the next step. The right to go to court is important, but it isn’t enough. We need to do more to keep women from being discriminated against in the first place.

We need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This bill gives teeth to the protections against pay discrimination. And women, who are still shortchanged in the workplace, deserve just that. The bill would empower women to negotiate for equal pay, create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, and strengthen federal outreach and enforcement efforts. It would also strengthen penalties for equal pay violations.

But from where I sit, one of the most important aspects of the Paycheck Fairness Act is a provision that would prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages to co-workers. This would have been particularly helpful to me, because Goodyear prohibited my colleagues and me from talking about our wages. This policy delayed my discovery of the pay inequities between my male counterparts and me by — literally — decades.

For the past year, I’ve been speaking out to build up support of this bill, with the help of my friends at the National Women’s Law Center.

The bill has already passed the House, and now it’s up to the Senate. It is time to improve the law, not just restore it. You can count on my continued commitment to passing this Act and to ensuring that women will some day, as the President called for in his State of the Union, truly have equal pay for equal work.

About the Author: Lilly Ledbetter is a volunteer and mother of two. She resides in Jacksonville, Alabama.

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