By Robin Hindery
Friday, October 22, 2004
Working women represent about 65 million votes, a huge portion of the U.S. electorate. Here's a look at how the two candidates might help or hurt their pocket books.
(WOMENSENEWS)--October polls have been showing that women in general, and especially single women, are supporting Senator John Kerry over President Bush; sometimes by as many as 10 percentage points.
But polls and surveys also suggest that working women feel both candidates have failed to adequately address their job concerns--in areas such as retirement benefits and employee health care--and the stubborn gender pay gap.
Working women represent about 65 million votes--substantially more than half the 105 million total votes counted in the last U.S. presidential election--yet they still earn less than men in every state.
The Institute for Women's Policy Research, based in Washington, D.C., reports that women today earn about 76 cents for every dollar earned by men. For every $100 they do receive, that means they have about $24 less than men to spend on groceries, housing and childcare than their male counterparts.
With this imbalance between voting power and financial security in mind--and Election Day looming--here's a look at how the two candidates stack up when it comes to women's workplace worries.
Currently, Bush makes no mention of the wage gap in his official platform.
His "W Stands for Women" campaign initiative instead claims higher earnings from 2000 to 2002 among female workers compared to men and highlights an unemployment rate among women that is at 4.9 percent, lower than the national average of 5.5 percent.
In an e-mail response to Women's eNews, a representative for "W Stands for Women" did not comment on the wage gap.
Kerry's campaign site addresses the wage gap, but only broadly. Kerry vows to close the gap by supporting pay-equity legislation and by "improving enforcement and disclosure about companies' payment practices."
The site does not specify the legislation. Nor does it say how a Kerry administration would improve disclosure. Representatives from the campaign did not return calls and e-mails seeking further details.
Many women's organizations have spoken out since the Bush administration, in late 2001, eliminated the Equal Pay Matters Initiative, designed to expand federal enforcement of anti-discriminatory legislation affecting the pay of women and minorities.
Such actions by the administration "are out of touch with the beliefs and aspirations of American women--and men--and would not be tolerated if they were widely known," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, in an April press conference. At that same event, the center released a report on "the erosion of hard-won gains for women" under Bush's leadership.
Wage inequality between workers who receive minimum wage and those who do not has been steadily increasing since the last minimum-wage hike in 1997. Today, a worker who receives minimum wage--$5.15 an hour--makes only 33 percent of the average hourly pay of a U.S. worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. The current gap is the largest since 1949.
Sixty one percent of workers who would profit from an increase in the minimum wage are women, according to the institute. In addition, single working mothers would benefit disproportionately. While they represent only 5 percent of the work force, single mothers are 11 percent of the group who would benefit from a higher minimum wage.
"It's long overdue time to raise the minimum wage," Kerry said in the third presidential debate in Arizona on Oct. 13, a view that is reiterated on his campaign site. "If we raise the minimum wage, which I will do over several years to $7 an hour, 9.2 million women who are trying to raise their families would earn another $3,800 a year."
Bush opted not to address the minimum wage issue in the debate, and shifted the conversation instead to the importance of education. He also does not discuss the issue on his campaign Web site.
During his 2000 campaign, Bush told The Associated Press that he supported a $1 increase in the minimum wage, but only if states could opt out. However, he has rejected all wage-increase proposals since being elected.
A February 2004 survey commissioned by the AFL-CIO, "Ask a Working Woman," found that 71 percent of working women are somewhat-to-very worried about threats to overtime pay. Eighty-seven percent think enacting laws to protect overtime pay is somewhat-to-very important, according to the organization, which represents more than 13 million working men and women.
On Aug. 23--under a revision of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by the Department of Labor--the Bush administration's new rules on overtime pay went into effect.
The revision reclassifies certain workers as "white collar" and therefore exempt from overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Some 6 million workers stand to be affected by the new law, including people in predominantly female jobs; nurses, retail supervisors and nursery-school teachers.
Kerry has pledged to reinstate traditional overtime pay. In the summer of 2003, he joined 42 other senators in writing a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao that urged her not to implement Bush's policies on overtime.
"Protecting the 40-hour work week is vital to balancing work responsibilities and family needs," the letter read. "It is certainly not family friendly to require employees to work more hours for less pay."
Many advocates for working women agreed. They say that reducing overtime pay--which makes up about one-fourth of the average weekly earnings of workers who receive it--could hurt many working women.
"Given the job titles of those who are exempt from overtime pay under the new rules, a significant percentage would be women," Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, a Chicago-based advocacy group, told Women's eNews. "This is just one more example of how the Bush administration has expanded employer prerogatives and reduced worker prerogatives."
Bush proposes implementing comp-time and flex-time as an alternative to traditional cash overtime pay.
Comp-time allows workers to trade overtime hours for time-off hours. One hour of overtime is worth an hour-and-a-half of time off. Flex-time would allow a worker to shift work hours during a pay period; if she works three hours overtime one week, she can work three hours less the next.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 2, Bush said these changes would allow for "a more family-friendly workplace."
Alison Harden, Laura Bush's spokesperson, said in a statement: "Providing choices like whether to receive overtime pay as cash or as paid time off will enable workers to juggle more effectively the demands of the workplace with the needs of their children, aging parents, and other factors."
Kerry would return to the traditional overtime rules that require employers to pay the employee one-and-a-half times her hourly wage for each hour worked, if she is unable to take off one-and-a-half times the number of hours of overtime worked.
Robin Hindery is a writer for Women's eNews in New York City.
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