(Image by Din Jimenez FLIKR)
Working families across the nation are struggling to make ends meet. Unemployment is still too high, wages are too low, and people are working more and more, while getting less and less.
This week, workers from all across our great nation will be meeting with President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and the Department of Labor for the White House Summit on Working Families.
The summit is focused on building an economy, and a workplace, that works for all Americans, with a focus on issues that face women and their families. The Summit will focus on key issues such as workplace flexibility, equal pay, workplace discrimination, worker retention and promotion, and childcare/early childhood education.
Anna Neighbor, a Philadelphia adjunct professor cobbles together teaching positions at as many as four different colleges in a sometimes futile attempt to make ends meet. She said college students are paralyzed by student loan debt, while a majority of their professors—like herself—work part time, are underpaid and receive no benefits.
Anna mirrors the struggles of many working people who have continued to see an erosion of their pay as the cost of living continues to rise. Even though Anna has an advanced degree, and is a college level educator, she receives no benefits and gets paid as low as $10 per hour.
Priscilla Smith, a teacher’s aide in Lake View, N.Y., near Buffalo, had to take on extra evening, weekend and early morning jobs to help her family financially.
We need to change the way we treat, and pay, our educators. The people, who are educating the workers of tomorrow, should not be forced to work two and three jobs to avoid living in poverty.
Gloria Wright, a 20-year Detroit preschool paraprofessional/assistant teacher hasn’t seen a raise in more than five years. She thinks about leaving the profession, but the pull of the rewards she receives from her students’ accomplishments keeps her in the classroom.
For many people serving their community is very rewarding, however you cannot pay the bills with the smiles of happy four-year olds. Like Gloria, many continue to live on the edge of financial ruin because they truly love the kids, and love what they are doing for their community.
Kendra Liddell a Seattle single mother is paid so little as a 10-year early childhood educator that she has to earn supplemental income to get by. She plans to get a degree in a better-paying field to bring some financial stability to her family, and then return to the classroom because of her deep commitment to serving families and her community.
For decades policy makers have been trying to find solutions to the fact that women continue to earn less than men. In spite of our best efforts women on average make $.77 on the dollar to a man. For women of color, the problem is even worse. “African-American women are paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”
Women continued to be oppressed in the workplace. Across the board women represent 42% of the overall workforce. Yet women are often excluded from industries like the building trades, which pay much better than retail or office work. In fact, only 2.6% of all construction workers are women, a number that has remained relatively unchanged for over 30 years.
Vanessa Casillas a bricklayer from Chicago, IL said, “I like being outside and working with my hands, and if I feel good doing it, why should I be limited if I’m a woman?”
Rocky Hwasta a carpenter of Cleveland, OH said, “I became a carpenter in 1985. Women were not accepted then and are not accepted now. Although I had a bachelor’s degree, as a single mom, I needed a good paying job with benefits to raise my family of three children.”
Recently eleven New Hampshire union building trades opened their doors in a special invitation for women to learn a lasting trade. The Building Pathways NH program gave local women the chance to see what a career in the building trades would be with a rigorous, five week, hands-on introduction to the different skilled trades. After they complete the Building Pathways program, they are invited to join a full apprentice program with any of the associated unions.
Elizabeth Skidmore, Business Agent for the Carpenters Local 118, helped create the Building Pathways NH program and will be speaking about the new and innovative program, as an invited guest at the Working Families Summit.
“I’m honored to be included in this summit and that the work a broad team has done over the last five years to increase the number of women working in union construction has been given to the White House as a national best practice,” said Skidmore. “Many partners, from labor to local, state and federal government, as well as union contractors and community partners, have worked together to identify and implement game changers, which has put more women to work in these high-skill, high-pay careers.”
The Working Families Summit will hopefully find solutions to some of the many problems that are plaguing working families. Problems like low pay, good affordable healthcare, retirements, sick days, paid time off and pay equity.
Our economy does better when we all do better. We need an America that works for everyone, businesses and workers alike.