Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘race equality’

Raising the Minimum Wage Has a Negligible Effect on Jobs

Friday, September 11th, 2015

William SpriggsAs states, cities and municipalities across the country raise wages to improve the lives of working people, it is worth highlighting how such moves affect low-income communities of color.

Many argue that higher wages hurt job growth. Here’s why that thinking is wrong.

The Congressional Budget Office, in an extensive review of the available research on the effects of the minimum wage, found that as many studies found job gains as found job losses, with the average estimate being that increases in the minimum wage have no measurable effect on employment. Digging more deeply into the studies’ various methodologies, the CBO noted that the best and most convincing studies looked specifically at instances in which minimum wages were increased in localities where bordering jurisdictions did not raise their minimum wage. The CBO found that in those studies, no significant employment effects were observed in the localities that raised their minimum wage compared with employment in the bordering communities. On that basis, the current consensus among economists is that raising the minimum wage has negligible effects on employment.

During the expansion of private-sector employment that began in 2010, and is now at record length, many states and localities have raised their minimum wage. Despite this, the sector most sensitive to increases in the minimum wage—the fast-food restaurant sector—has seen the greatest job growth of any sector. Job growth in those states with higher minimum wages is not lagging job growth in states that have failed to raise their minimum wage; again, this is true when looking at neighboring states with different minimum wages.

It continues to be the case that minimum wages are presented as a creator or destroyer of jobs. In reality, job growth is driven by rising incomes and growing customer bases that demand products, prompting businesses to respond by hiring more people to increase their output and serve the growing customer demand. Low wages do not create jobs or expand customer bases.

An error often repeated within the black community confuses the notion of not employed with unemployed. These are two separate concepts, and economists use them to understand the policy solution. The black community suffers from a very high unemployment rate—the share of people actively trying to find work. Nationally, while the number of unemployed people per job opening has come down, it remains higher than when the labor market peaks at slightly fewer than two unemployed people per job opening. The black community also suffers from a low labor-force participation rate, which is the share of people either employed or looking for work—those who are active members of the labor market.

Because of high unemployment rates, black working people are far more likely than white working people to accept low-wage work. Among households with full-time year-round working people, 9.2% of black families live in poverty compared with 3.4% of white families; among female-headed households in the black community, it’s 18.1%. At every level of educational attainment, black income is less than white income, just as at every level of educational attainment, black unemployment rates are higher than those of whites. Lowering black people’s wages will not close the unemployment gap faced by black working families.

Blacks will work for less, but that doesn’t mean blacks will work for anything. Some are not active in the labor market because of discouragement over limited job openings. However, many are discouraged not over job openings but over wages. Non-employment includes both those who are unemployed—actively looking for work—and those not in the labor force at all, such as young people who would rather pursue more education than take low wages, mothers who can’t afford transportation and child care expenses at low wages, and non-custodial fathers who wouldn’t net an income at low wages after paying for transportation and child support.

Raising wages will increase black labor-force participation. More black working people will continue to be engaged in job search if the jobs they are chasing pay higher wages. Working and being poor can be a poverty trap itself. Those who want to help the black community should work to raise the wages of the jobs that black people find themselves locked into. Raising wages for black working families means that money will support the growth and survival of businesses in their community.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on September 11 ,2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

Workplace Toxics Reveal the Beauty Industry’s Ugly Side

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Michelle ChenYou shouldn’t have to suffer to be beautiful. But many women suffer for the beauty of others, polishing nails and styling hair with a toxic pallette of chemicals.

Working long hours amid noxious fumes, salon workers, typically women of color, are in constant contact with chemicals linked to various illnesses and reproductive health problems.

While environmental justice campaigns have historically focused on localized pollution issues, the National Healthy Nail & Beauty Salon Alliance organizes around the intersection of workplace environmental health and racial and economic justice. According to the Alliance’s analysis, the hazards endemic to the nail salon industry are stratified by ethnicity and gender: roughly four in ten workers are Asian immigrants, many of them of childbearing age, poor, uninsured and with limited English-speaking ability. And they are assaulted daily by invisible threats:

On a daily basis and often for long hours at a stretch, nail and beauty salon technicians – most of whom are women of reproductive age – handle solvents, glues, polishes, dyes, straightening solutions and other nail and beauty care products, containing a multitude of unregulated chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer, allergies, respiratory illnesses, neurological and reproductive harm.

These toxic environments reflect the marginal nature of neighborhood beauty shops that operate with little oversight. The Alliance reports that workers are often crammed into “poorly ventilated, small workspaces,” lacking protective gear, sometimes using inaccurately labeled products, not knowing to protect themselves.

Environmental justice activists in Harlem, New York, are investigating the health implications of beauty products marketed to women of color with a “Beauty Map” project. The data visualization pinpoints where and how these ethnic beauty products are sold in the community. According to WE ACT’s research:

The presence of ethnic personal care products sold in pharmacies, discount chains, and corner stores in Northern Manhattan, revealed more than 600 non beauty related points of source in addition to the 348 beauty salons, supply stores, and hair braiding shops in the area….

Given the prevalence of ethnic personal care products sold in Northern Manhattan stores and use among residents, WE ACT is advocating for chemical policy that will better protect consumers against potentially harmful ingredients in personal products.

One particularly popular and controversial hair treatment is Brazilian Blowout, which produces formaldehyde gas linked to cancer and associated with respiratory ailments. Earlier this year, in a Nation Institute report, California-based stylist Jennifer Arce talked about becoming sick from Brazilian Blowout, recalling that among her coworkers, “We were all getting rashes, headaches, and bloody noses.” Pointing to a workplace culture of fear, she said, “I’m now hearing from hair stylists who have had their jobs threatened and are being bullied by co-workers and management if they complain about exposure to Brazilian Blowout.”

In New York City, the ACLU and labor activists have campaigned to protect, and raise public awareness about, low-income immigrant nail salon workers facing abuse from their employers and the workplace toxins.

Despite these hazards, women workers can find power at the interface between a poisonous industry and consumers who lust for beauty. The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative has brought together salon workers, owners and public health advocates to provide health and safety training for salons and to push for tighter regulations on the industry.

The Collaborative, which includes Asian Health Services and other community organizations, has worked with San Francisco salons to raise workplace standards cooperatively. In collaboration with city and county environmental authorities, the Collaborative has partnered with Asian Law Caucus and Environment California to set up a recognition program for salons that keep their shops free of the “toxic trio” of nail polish chemicals (toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde). Additionally, the group is pushing to expand the bilingual services provided by safety regulators and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

The Collaborative’s policy director Catherine Porter told In these Times that while stronger regulations are needed, a rewards system for salons that use less toxic products and greener practices could motivate local owners to promote healthier workplaces:

We see recognition programs as a way that nail salons can set themselves apart from their competition. Nail salons will say to themselves, “Oh, if I use safer products and safer practices, that’s actually something that I can market, and I can use that to attract more customers and a more loyal customer base.” Plus, we think that as more salons move in the direction of using less toxic products, that will in turn pressure nail product manufacturers to develop safer alternatives.

The state of California recently gave advocates a boost with a legal settlement that will stop deceptive labeling practices by the manufacturer of Brazilian Blowout. The Collaborative and the National Healthy Nail & Beauty Salon Alliance has called for stronger federal labor protections and stricter labeling and reporting standards. The proposed federal Safe Cosmetics Act would not only ramp up federal oversight of personal care products but also move the industry toward phasing out the most dangerous chemicals.

But despite these community-driven efforts, the supply chain remains dominated by companies that profit by degrading environmental health, and by a consumer culture that endorses the trading of health for beauty. As workers absorb the poisonous cost of “perfection,” the ugly mirror image of the beauty business is slowly coming to light.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on June 15, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog