GOP’s Labor Day scorecard: Here’s how they’re flunking and hurting us all

Take a moment from eating hot dogs with your extended family to consider the status of the American worker!

Topics: Labor Day, hot dogs, Workers' Rights, family and medical insurance leave act, paid family leave, sick leave, Minimum wage, equal pay, women, Gender, Family, Poverty, Work, economy, Labor, Unions, Labor movement, Editor's Picks,

GOP's Labor Day scorecard: Here's how they're flunking and hurting us allMarsha Blackburn, Michele Bachmann (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Susan Walsh/Photo montage by Salon)

Happy Labor Day, everyone. Thank you, unions and the American labor movement! And thank you, Grover Cleveland, for being a cynical strikebreaker who thought he could appease angry workers and stay in office by signing off on a pro-labor holiday. Cleveland didn’t win reelection, but his transparent bid for public favor gave us a day off to eat hot dogs with our extended families and reflect on the current status of the American worker.

So how are we doing? How’s the Republican-led House of Representatives faring on worker issues? (Spoiler: Womp womp.)

Women still don’t have equal pay. 

Women, on average, earn less than their male peers. Even in the same jobs. Even for the same hours worked. Even when they have the same level of education. According to a 2003 analysis from the Government Accountability Office, the pay gap persists between men and women even when factoring in part-time work and women taking time off to have children or care for other family members. “Even after accounting for key factors that affect earnings, our model could not explain all of the difference in earnings between men and women,” according to the report.

And a breakdown of median weekly salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that women earn less than men in all but seven of the 600 listed occupations that the government has data on. A male high school teacher makes, on average, $1,050 a week. His female colleague earns, on average, 93 percent of that. A male physician makes, on average, $2,099 a week. His female colleague earns, on average, 67 percent of that.

So what’s the mystery ingredient to explain the otherwise unexplainable and persistent gap in wages? The Department of Labor has a theory:

Decades of research shows a gender gap in pay even after factors like the kind of work performed and qualifications (education and experience) are taken into account. These studies consistently conclude that discrimination is the best explanation of the remaining difference in pay. Economists generally attribute about 40 percent of the pay gap to discrimination — making about 60 percent explained by differences between workers or their jobs.

And far from being equal in its unequalness, the pay gap is worse for women of color and LGBTQ women. African-American women who work full-time year round earn 64 cents on the dollar; Latina women earn 54 cents on the dollar. These losses add up, amounting to thousands and thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Women have more tools than ever at their disposal to challenge this kind of discrimination, but are still playing catch-up when it comes to ensuring they receive equal pay for equal work. Part of changing this involves a really sweeping cultural overhaul that reevaluates how men and women are valued, both in the labor force and at home. But it would be great if, in the meantime, Congress would implement some of the measures proposed to increase transparency and accountability in rectifying this gap, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed again in 2014 but would have made it illegal for employers to punish workers who share information about their wages. And sharing information about your wages is one way to find out if your wages are grossly unequal.

Minimum wage workers still can’t support themselves on a full-time salary.

More than 25 percent of low-wage workers are single mothers. The minimum wage has been stalled at $7.25 an hour since 2009, meaning that even working full-time, these families are only bringing in $14,500 each year, which is $4,000 below the poverty level for a family with two children. And if you can’t get a full-time schedule (or a reliably full-time schedule), the situation can become even more dire.

Raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to a meager $10.10 an hour would boost earnings for 28 million workers, and would help lift millions of women out of poverty. Overall, two out of every three minimum wage workers is a woman, and many of those women are also mothers or the primary caregivers in their households. Despite widespread support across gender and party lines, Republican lawmakers almost uniformly oppose a modest raise to the minimum wage, leaving millions of families in poverty.

LGBTQ workers still don’t have basic job protections. 

A recent study on workplace discrimination revealed that LGBTQ job applicants were 23 percent less likely to get an interview than their straight counterparts, even when those straight applicants were less qualified for the position. But you really don’t need a study to show that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is happening in the workplace. Anecdotal evidence more than bears this out. In Texas earlier this year, parents tried to get a trans woman suspended from her job as a substitute teacher because they viewed her presence in the classroom as a “distraction.” She was eventually assigned to a job outside the classroom, even though she was a perfectly qualified teacher. And this kind of blatant discrimination is actually legal.

And job insecurity takes its toll. A report released last year by the Williams Institute revealed that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than straight Americans to live in poverty, due in part to job insecurity. Anti-LGBTQ job discrimination (and a lack of uniform access to federal benefits extended through marriage) also impacts the children of gay couples. As the report pointed out, the children of gay couples are twice as likely to grow up in poverty than children of married straight couples.

Discrimination against trans workers is legal in 34 states. It is legal to discriminate against gay workers in 29 states. A recent executive order signed by President Obama has banned anti-LGBTQ bias in hiring and firing practices for federal contract workers, but Congress has repeatedly punted on signing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, federal legislation that would extend basic job protections to all LGBTQ employees and ensure that, at a minimum, being who you are won’t get you fired in this country.

The United States still doesn’t have paid family leave or paid sick leave.

Nearly 40 percent of private sector workers can’t take even a single day off if they’re sick, if their kid is sick, if they’re injured or undergoing some kind of medical treatment. And when it comes to part-time workers, that number rockets to 73 percent. According to research from McGill University, the United States is the only wealthy nation among 22 wealthy nations surveyed that doesn’t provide sick leave for workers undergoing cancer treatments, or allow workers to take a single day off because they have the flu. We are the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t have basic sick leave guarantees in place.

And as the Center for American Progress points out in its own research, the average wage of workers without paid sick leave is $10 per hour, only a few dollars above the minimum wage. “If a worker with this salary has a family of two children and misses more than three days of work without paid leave, the family would fall below the poverty line due to lost wages,” according to the report.

Just as we trail the rest of the world on sick leave, the United States is one of three developed countries in the world that doesn’t have a paid family leave policy in place. Instead, we offer some parents the option to take up to 12 weeks off — without pay — and only if they meet certain requirements, like working at a company with more than 50 employees.

A handful of states provide leave through payroll taxes, and companies are free to decide on their own leave policies, but there is no guarantee in this country that you can take time off to be with your kid if you have one. As Bryce Covert noted at ThinkProgress, that puts us in lonely company with Papua New Guinea and Oman.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, introduced this year, would provide all workers with a partial income for up to 12 weeks when caring for themselves, their children or another member of their family. It’s a small step, but it’s one the country is long overdue to take.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...