National Partnership for Women & Families

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Vicki Shabo, Director of Work and Family Programs

From the desk of ... Vicki Shabo

Employer Trends Signal Need for National Workplace Standards

The nation’s largest online employment website, CareerBuilder.com, released its annual job forecast last week, identifying seven employer trends that job seekers should keep in mind this year. The top trends suggest a significant shift toward part-time and temporary positions due to uncertainty about the economy. These trends carry potentially harmful consequences for women and families, and create even more urgency for the country to adopt national policy standards that promote economic security for families and opportunities for economic growth.

The top three CareerBuilder trends are particularly bleak: stalled full-time hiring, increased employer reliance on temporary and contract workers, and more part-time hiring. Collectively, this means less job security and stability for employees, less access to paid time off when family and medical needs arise, and less access even to unpaid leave under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is because part-time, contingent and temporary workers tend to be ineligible for these protections. Unpaid leave under the FMLA is only available to people who have worked for their employers for at least 12 months or 1,250 hours. Private sector employers offer paid sick time to just 24 percent of part-time workers and paid family leave to just five percent of part-time workers. And workers with no permanent “employer” – temps and independent contractors – have neither job security nor financial support during times of personal or family medical need.

If the forecasted trends bear out, the people who serve our food, scan our purchases and care for our children and elders will be more insecure. More families will live on the brink, one family or personal illness away from financial turmoil. Women and their families will be disproportionately affected because women remain primary caregivers in most families, even as we are increasingly family breadwinners as well. But the jobs women have – and are likely to have in the future – don’t offer the support to accomplish these dual roles.

Although the CareerBuilder survey notes trends toward more hiring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, and more competitive compensation in highly specialized IT and sales fields, that is not the whole picture. The Department of Labor (DOL) reports that 19 of the 30 fastest growing jobs pay annual wages below the national median wage, and nearly all of these jobs will be held by women. In addition, women dominate the industries and lower-paying jobs that offer no access to basic paid time for illness or family and medical needs. Putting the CareerBuilder and DOL forecasts together, women in low-wage jobs can expect their circumstances to grow more dire – and that has serious consequences for our children, elders, communities, taxpayers and the economy.

These trends make the need for public policies that recognize the needs of the workforce even more urgent. As job seekers deal with a national movement toward part-time and temporary work and other new realities of our economy, Congress must prioritize workplace standards that keep pace by helping workers and their families, employers and the economy. The Healthy Families Act and the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would establish national paid sick days and paid family and medical leave standards. Both would ensure that working people – regardless of full-time or part-time status – can earn the paid leave they need. The FAMILY Act would enable even self-employed workers to receive paid leave benefits when serious family and medical needs arise.

And measures that expand the FMLA to cover more workers by covering smaller employers and eliminating the hours-worked requirement would help to ensure that more people have access to basic job-protected unpaid leave when serious medical needs arise. Guaranteeing this common sense right would mean that women and men with serious health issues or family caregiving responsibilities would no longer have to sacrifice their jobs to meet health and caregiving needs.

National paid sick days and family and medical leave standards, and increased access to the FMLA, would recognize modern workplace realities and help to ensure that workers and their families have some basic support regardless of whether they work one full-time job, multiple part-time jobs, or on a contingent or temporary basis. Such standards would help employers attract workers and, in doing so, help to maintain consumer spending. States and cities across the country already recognize the imperative for change and are generating momentum around paid sick days, paid family leave and FMLA expansion. It is past time for Congress to follow suit.

Enacting fair and family friendly workplace policies is the trend we should all be focused on this year. These are the policies that would truly help strengthen the economy and the job market – and greatly benefit all of us.


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