No area is safe from plunder in the Trump era, even decades-old laws as seemingly untouchable as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Congress is expected to vote on the ADA Education and Reform Act this week (H.R. 620), which has already passed the House Judiciary Committee. Don’t be fooled by the “reform” in the bill’s title—H.R. 620 would gut key ADA protections for people with disabilities, all in the name of defending business.
For decades, businesses have used vague language in the ADA to seek favorable court rulings, claiming at various times that providing “reasonable accommodations” would constitute an “undue burden” on their finances—forcing people with disabilities to financially justify their rights in a way no other marginalized group has to.
But for Republican sponsors of H.R. 620, this doesn’t protect businesses enough. The bill requires complainants to notify a business of an accessibility violation in writing, then gives that company a full 60 days to respond, and another 120 days to make changes.
And instead of requiring actual compliance with ADA standards, H.R. 620 simply mandates that those changes show “substantial progress” in that direction. As Rebecca Cokley, the senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress, says, “Businesses could be claiming ‘substantial progress’ for decades.”
“Businesses have had 27 years to learn about and conform to the ADA’s requirements,” wrote Samuel Bagenstos last September after H.R. 620 passed through committee. “Rather than protecting legitimate business interests, the bill … would give a reprieve to enterprises that have had 27 years to comply with the law but have not yet done so.”
Supporters of H.R. 620 claim that the bill protects businesses from unprincipled lawyers and “drive-by lawsuits.” But Cokley points out that state courts and bar associations are equipped to deal with frivolous lawsuits. “H.R. 620,” she says, “is further evidence of the war on marginalized communities’ access to public accommodations. If this was any other community, we wouldn’t be talking about taking their rights back.”
(Photo: J. Scales) Adele M. Stan P rospect columnist Adele M. Stan has won the 2017 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, an award that since 1950 has been dedicated to recognizing journalism in the service of social and economic justice. As 2016’s divisive presidential election unfolded, Stan offered real-time, weekly analysis of the campaign and the confluence of forces that paved Trump’s road to the White House. Her two decades of experience reporting on and researching the American right wing gave her the insight and confidence to say what many political commentators, settled complacently behind incorrect prediction models, wouldn’t: that Donald J. Trump could win the presidency. “You know what else does not add up?” Stan asked liberal readers clinging to hopeful electoral numbers in May 2016. “The denial of the ways in which the system can be gamed or hacked, a rack of new voting laws, and the possibility that pollsters are not able to account for all the people who...
(Photo: Sipa USA via AP/Erik McGregor) Women and allies march to celebrate International Women's Day and the International Women's Strike on March 8 in New York City. T he call to participate in Wednesday’s Day Without A Woman strike might have set women an impossible task. Organizers of the mass strike, which coincided with International Women’s Day, conceived of the event as a “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity” to bring attention to the unpaid and often invisible domestic work that women perform on a daily basis. Yet the very nature of women’s work—often unpaid, and disproportionately represented in essential professions like health, social services, and education—made it impossible for many women to participate. “If I take the day off, it means I have to either work later, or work on the weekend,” said Sandy Huntzinger, a single mother of two from Columbus, Ohio, who was unable to stay home from her job as a domestic violence victim services coordinator. “And I don’t...
In 2017, Portland, Oregon, will become the first city to impose a surtax on companies with CEOs who make more than 100 times their workers’ median pay—an idea that was floated by Prospect executive editor Harold Meyerson two years ago.
“If congressional liberals want to diminish economic inequality, they should also promote legislation that would link corporate tax rates to the ratio between CEO pay and the firm’s median pay,” Meyerson wrote in 2014. “They [CEOs and their boards] would … have a self-interest in raising their workers’ wages.”
The Portland rule, which Councilmember and City Commissioner Steve Novick told Meyerson was inspired by Meyerson’s writing, requires companies to pay an additional 10 percent in taxes if their CEO pay is 100 times their median worker’s pay, and an additional 25 percent if the ratio is more than 250 to 1. Novick told Meyerson that there were 540 such corporations doing business in Portland—five of which are based there.
A similar bill was proposed in California in 2014, but died on the state Senate floor. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law required the Securities and Exchange Commission to publish U.S. corporations’ CEO-to-worker pay ratios.
“When I first read about the idea of applying a higher tax rate to companies with extreme ratios of CEO pay to typical worker pay, I thought it was a fascinating idea,” Novick told The New York Times after the measure passed on December 7. In The Guardian, economist Branko Milanovic was also quoted praising the idea, saying “it seems [to be] the first tax that targets inequality as such. … It treats inequality as having a negative externality like taxing carbon emissions.”
What is the correct figure for how much women are paid relative to men? Is it 80 cents to the dollar? Or is it 83 cents?
The answer, it turns out, is both: There are alternative methods for measuring the gender wage gap, and a Wednesday panel discussion at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., focused on the myriad ways the gap shortchanges female workers. The event centered on a new EPI report entitled “What is the gender pay gap and is it real?”
“Different gender wage gaps are answers to different questions,” said EPI senior economist Elise Gould, a co-author of the report, during the discussion. “It doesn’t mean [the wage gap] is not real.” While 80 cents to the dollar reflects the median discrepancy for women working full-time, Gould said that EPI uses the 83 percent figure because it looks at per-hour wages and includes part-time workers.
In practical terms, that means that women’s median take-home pay amounts to $15.67 an hour, compared with $18.94 for men. Over the course of her lifetime, the gender pay gap costs the average woman worker more than $530,000 in lost wages. The lifetime wage losses are even greater for college-educated women, averaging close to $800,000. The wage gap reflects not just employers’ decisions to pay women less, the panelists stressed, but also institutional barriers and the work-life decisions that women make.
The gap tends to widen with education levels in part because of wage floors like the federal minimum wage, but also because women face penalties throughout their professional lives for having children or caring for family members. “Women can’t simply educate themselves out of the gender wage gap,” said Gould.
Nor can women simply choose different and higher-paying careers, agreed Wednesday’s panelists, who also included Sarita Gupta, the executive director of Jobs With Justice; Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research; and Latifa Lyles, the director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor.
Occupational segregation still contributes to large pay discrepancies across similar fields, and subtle gender discrimination can inhibit women from crossing over—Hartmann cited the examples of a female machine operator who could make $13,000 more as a welder, and a library assistant who could make $24,000 more as an IT specialist. Gould also noted that as women enter a particular field in increasing numbers, the pay will often decrease as the work becomes devalued.
One of the most consistently devalued occupations is caregiving, a field dominated by women and people of color. Gupta, who is also the co-director of Caring Across Generations, emphasized the need for a better “care infrastructure” that would help both low-paid workers and women who are unpaid caregivers to family members.
In the absence of better paid leave policies for both women and men, said Lyles, “a lot of women are going to have some reason to leave the workforce” in their lifetimes, and that translates into “lost earnings that compound over a lifetime.”
Better paid leave policies would also alleviate a barrier faced by women in high-profile professions that demand longer hours. “I do believe that these long hours were created to reserve these jobs for men,” Hartmann said. Gould added that the willingness to work late is often “an incorrect signal” for productivity.
The EPI report also highlighted the uptick in economic inequality since 1980, which is what primarily accounts for any narrowing of the gender pay gap over those decades. “The stagnation and decline of median men’s wages has played a significant role in the decline in the unadjusted gender wage gap,” the report states. Also Wednesday, Gould unveiled the EPI’s gender pay gap calculator, which tells users how much money they would be making in the absence of a gender wage gap, and how much they would be making if wages had increased with economic growth, as they in the three decades after World War II. For example, a 30-year-old woman with a Bachelor’s degree and an annual salary of $40,000 would be making $44,785 in the absence of a pay gap, and $64,420 if inequality hadn’t increased.
But regardless of gender, the conclusion was the same: “Had workers’ wages continued to keep pace with productivity, both men and women would be earning much more today.”