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Women Workers and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Past and Present Ruth Milkman CUNY Graduate Center November 15, 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Women Workers and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Past and Present Ruth Milkman CUNY Graduate Center November 15, 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Women Workers and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Past and Present Ruth Milkman CUNY Graduate Center November 15, 2013

2 OUTLINE FLSA was part of New Deal effort to remediate what is now termed labor market “precarity” Initial impact on women workers limited due to the exclusion of several key sectors Over time, coverage increased; by 1974 nearly all sectors were covered Yet starting in the mid 1970s, New Deal regime was steadily eroded, reducing FLSA’s reach This occurred against the background of huge changes in women’s employment

3 FLSA and Women Workers Backdrop: 15 states had minimum wage laws for women and children, starting with MA in 1912 Progressive era unionists opposed such laws for adult men; as late as 1936 AFL (but not CIO) Initially FLSA excluded agriculture; domestic work; retail, laundry, hotel and restaurant work; food processing and government employment It covered 14% of employed women, vs. 39% of men But more men than women already were paid at or above the minimum wage (then 25 cents/hr), so women disproportionately benefited, esp. in garments/textiles

4 Later, FLSA Coverage Expanded Labor feminists worked toward this end, also struggled to improve state MW laws Their successes included 1963 Equal Pay Act (an amendment to FLSA) and 1966 FLSA amendments covering agriculture, state and local government, and retail and service work In 1974 domestic workers won coverage too

5 Depression set the context of FLSA Unemployment was higher for men

6 Unemployment by Gender,1930 - 1940 (Source: U.S. Census Bureau data, adjusted for 1930 to be consistent with 1940 methodology)

7 Depression set the context of FLSA Unemployment was higher for men Family wage ideal prevailed, with widespread marriage bars

8 “Family Wage” ideology (weakened in the 1920s) grew stronger in the 1930s The American Federation of Labor’s executive council urged that “married women whose husbands have permanent positions… should be discriminated against in the hiring of employees.” NY State Assemblyman Arthur Swartz called married women workers “undeserving parasites.” 82% of respondents to a 1936 Gallup poll said that married women with employed husbands should not be working. George Gallup declared that he had never seen respondents “so solidly united in opposition as on any subject imaginable, including sin and hay fever.”

9 Public policy followed suit: “Marriage bars” became more widespread:  In 1928, 61% of local school districts would not hire married women, and 52% would not retain them; by 1942, the figures were 87% and 70%, respectively.  The 1932 federal Economy Act’s “married persons clause” required that married workers whose spouses were government employees be the first laid off.  Some private sector employers also implemented marriage bars, especially in white collar jobs. Yet married women’s labor force participation rose from 11.7% in 1930 to 15.2% in 1940.

10 Women and Class Inequality The “Great Compression” in U.S. income inequality began in the 1930s, accelerated in the 1940s and continued until the 1970s, reflecting union strength and the impact of New Deal legislation. The historical literature on class inequality relies on data on male incomes. Before 1940, most employed women were single, divorced/separated or widowed; and married women typically had very low earnings. For almost all adult women, their class position was thus determined largely by their husbands’ income. Among employed women, the vast majority had extremely low earnings before 1970; thus wage inequality among women was minimal in that period. Women disproportionately benefited from minimum wage laws,, and gained from other New Deal legislation as well.

11 Narrowing of Gender Inequality Since the 1930s Growth in female labor force participation, especially among wives and mothers Women overtake men in educational attainment Demise of “family wage” ideology Legal and popular support for gender equity at work “Stalled revolution” – enduring gender inequality in unpaid household labor and child care Reduction – for some – in job segregation Yet, soaring inequality, including inequality AMONG women


13 Proportion of 26-28 year olds with a Bachelor’s Degree, by Birth Year from 1912 to 1984 ( DePrete and Buchmann 2013)


15 Job Segregation Has Declined

16 The Declining Gender Gap in Earnings (full-time, year-round workers)

17 Class Differences in Job Segregation by Sex, 1950-2000

18 Access to Paid Maternity Leave by Educational Attainment, 2006-08

19 Other Aspects of the New Inequality Gender gap in earnings – unlike job segregation – is greater for top-earners, because men’s earnings are so high at the top; middle- and working-class male real earnings have declined since the 1970s. Class homogamy, combined with high labor force participation of married women, multiplies class inequalities Marital stability is higher for college-educated, high-earning women than for the less privileged; single parents typically are low-income women. Affluent women more often replace their own household labor with paid domestic labor (although demands are also higher, given “intensive mothering” and long hours for professionals)

20 Updating FLSA for 21 st Century Ironically, shortly after 1974 inclusion of domestic workers under FLSA, its promise of a floor under wages began to erode Minimum wage peaked in 1968 (in real $) Women hurt most by this, since so many are paid at or near the minimum; especially women of color and immigrant women. Deteriorating enforcement budgets/staffing also disproportionately impact women Falling unionization rates also key here

21 FLSA Violations and Gender

22 Other Gender-Specific Issues Union protection limited for low-wage, less- educated women (unionization rates are higher for women among college grads – mostly public sector teachers etc; but rates are higher for men among less educated workers Men are overrepresented among independent contractors, but more women in low-wage fields Just-in-time scheduling reveal anachronistic side of hours laws – we may need MINIMUM hours laws not just overtime pay

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