Category Archives: Economic Justice

Family Caps are Still Considered Birth Control in Pennsylvania

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

The U.S. Census Bureau’s new report on family income reveals that 14.5 percent of all Americans, 45.3 million people, live in poverty. That’s two percentage points higher than 2007, before the recession.

Pennsylvania is no exception. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center noted poverty rising in most regions in the state, “highlighting the widespread impact of the recession and the need for policymakers to protect struggling families.”

So what does the Pennsylvania Legislature do the week they get back to work after a long summer off?

Propose cutting benefits to struggling families with newborn babies.

Sponsored by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2477 would implement what’s known as a “family cap” on the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. Family caps deny babies conceived while the family is enrolled in the program from receiving TANF benefits.

Quite literally, this bill attempts to deter poor women from giving birth by refusing to financially help the child.

In her memo introducing the bill, Swanger wrote that her intention is “to reduce the number of children born on public assistance.”

Evidence shows family caps don’t work that way. For starters, the concept is based on a false assumption. Low-income women are not deliberately getting pregnant and bearing children to snag more state benefits. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the average family size was the same (3.7 persons), whether or not a family received assistance.”

While family caps fail at their supposed intention, what they succeed in doing is increasing the number of families in deep poverty. In particular, they increase the deep poverty rate of single mothers and children.

The bill, recently referred to the state House Health committee, contains a rape and incest exception. It states that a poor mother can receive benefits to feed her infant if, while pregnant, she signs paperwork asserting she was the victim of rape or incest, and that she reported the assault to authorities “including the identity of the offender, if known.”

It’s unclear what prompted the bill. TANF benefits, which have not kept pace with inflation, are already failing to cover basic needs. The number of families receiving TANF in Pennsylvania is near an all-time low; benefit levels have not increased in 25 years. In fact, since 1997, the Commonwealth has reduced its TANF caseload by nearly 60 percent.

At the same time Swanger proposes cutting TANF for pregnant women, several lawmakers have proposed legislation to increase TANF benefits as part of the Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-choice legislative package supported by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus.

Viewpoints, and voting records, like Swanger’s put poor women in an impossible position.

While supporting a family cap on TANF to try to prevent poor women from having children, Swanger has also voted several times to limit poor and working women’s access to abortion services.

Poor and working women of Pennsylvania need opportunities that will help them lift themselves and their families out of poverty. What they don’t need is to be pinned between policies intended to deprive their babies of benefits as punishment for becoming mothers, and ever-increasing barriers to affordable, safe and legal abortion.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Economic Justice, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault, TANF, Welfare, Women's health, working mothers, Working poor

Women’s Law Project Calls for UPMC to Stop Its Challenge to Equal Employment Opportunity Regulations

By Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney 

Make sure your voice is heard on this issue, please sign this petition.

On February 5, 2014, Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project (WLP), spoke at a press conference at Pittsburgh City Council and called on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to put an end to its legal challenge to equal employment opportunity regulations.  The WLP joined a number of community leaders and civil rights organizations – including the SEIU, members of Pittsburgh City Council, NAACP Pittsburgh Branch, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network
Service, and Pennsylvania NOW – in taking a stand against UPMC’s efforts to dismantle our country’s affirmative action program for federal contractors.

The issue arose in 2004, when federal auditors sought to review affirmative action plans and inspect personnel records at three UPMC locations (only one of which is still open).  UPMC initiated a legal challenge to the government’s request, taking the position that auditors from the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, or OFCCP, had no cause to check the personnel records of three hospitals for compliance with affirmative action rules that apply to federal contractors and subcontractors.  UPMC lost its battles at the lower court levels, but is presently asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse those lower court rulings.

Before our country had fair employment rules and anti-discrimination regulations, women and minorities were completely locked out of entire occupations, and to this day sex and race discrimination persist, including in the health care sector.  UPMC’s troubling attempt to eviscerate a key component of our nation’s fair employment rules takes us back to the 1950s.  As we learn more about the poison of race and sex discrimination, we are learning that if you care about patient safety, you must care about having a diverse workforce. In particular, in the health care field, workforce diversity is associated with reduced health care disparities and better patient care.  We ask UPMC to stop trying to weaken our nation’s promise of equal opportunity in the workplace and stop trying to threaten the gains that women and minorities have made over the past fifty years.

To make sure your voice is heard on this issue, please sign this petition.

Comments Off

Filed under Allegheny County, Economic Justice, Employment, Equality, Pittsburgh

Just Harvest Releases Barriers to Benefits Report: PA Health Program Fails to Deliver!

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

Just Harvest recently released their report titled Barriers to Benefits, which shows that Pennsylvania’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is failing to provide Pennsylvanians with the aid that they need.  Their research shows that there are chronic problems in the food stamp application process—particularly with the inability to successfully reach caseworkers and transmit paperwork.  These problems inhibit consumers from obtaining and maintaining benefits, hurting Pennsylvania families.

The numbers are shocking.  Just Harvest’s research found that 85% of their test calls could not reach a human being, and 66% of surveyed Food Stamp consumers reported disconnects while trying to reach caseworkers. 30% of survey participants also reported that the paperwork they provided was not processed in time for their health benefits to continue without interruption.  40% of survey participants reported waiting more than an hour and a half at the office to talk to a caseworker in person.  The numbers are clear: The County Assistance Offices are unable to properly respond to their workload, and it is having a negative impact on Pennsylvanians.

Just Harvest concludes their report with a well-thought out list of recommendations that the state’s Department of Public Welfare should take to improve the ability of citizens to obtain aid through SNAP.  The list of recommendations includes improving the phone systems, creating a system for confirmation notices when paperwork is received and alerts if documents are missing, regularly reporting data on dropped calls or lost documents to the public, increasing staff, and enforcing the standard that caseworkers treat all consumers with dignity and respect.  The Department of Public Welfare should certainly consider and act upon these recommendations in order to improve the SNAP program and better serve PA consumers.

It is important for us to remember, as Just Harvest points out in their mission statement, that “hunger is a symptom of poverty and that poverty is a product of social and economic injustice.”  We need to improve programs like SNAP in order to better the socioeconomic situation of Pennsylvanian women and their families.

For more information on Just Harvest, visit their website at

Comments Off

Filed under Economic Justice, food stamps, Pennsylvania, Welfare, Working poor

Slow & Uneven Progress: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 35

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

Thirty-five years ago today, President Carter signed into law the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law superseded the U.S. Supreme Court’s misguided decisions in Geduldig v. Aiello and General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, both of which held that pregnancy discrimination was not a form of sex discrimination.

The PDA prohibits employers from firing, demoting, refusing to hire, or otherwise discriminating against a woman because of her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It states that employers must treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions “the same for all employment-related purposes … as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” The intention was to bring Title VII closer to meeting its goal, which Justice Brennan noted in his Gilbert dissent, as being to

 “assur[e] equality of employment opportunities and [] eliminate those discriminatory practices and devices which have fostered [sexually] stratified job environments to the disadvantage of [women].” (quoting McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 800 (1973)).

Undoubtedly, the PDA has improved the workplace for women. The number of women working outside of the home has clearly increased since its passage. Nevertheless, over the last 35 years, far too many women have fallen through the cracks that our courts have chiseled into the law. For example, courts have required women to prove that employers provided better treatment to employees who were not only “similar in their ability or inability to work,” as the statutory language requires, but who were also afflicted with limitations arising from off-the-job conditions, which the language of the statute does not require. Courts have also refused to count  discrimination related to breast feeding and parental leave as pregnancy discrimination despite the PDA’s clear language that “‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include… because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” These shortcomings exist not only in the PDA, but also in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, both of which are anti-discrimination laws modeled after Title VII and the PDA.

With regard to workplace accommodations, the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act may fill some of these gaps; however, it remains to be seen how the courts known for limiting the effect of the PDA will apply the new protections. The amendment to the ADA requires an employer to provide an employee whose condition meets the law’s expanded definition of “disability” — including temporary impairments and less severe impairments — with a reasonable accommodation that does not present an undue hardship to the employer. Pregnancy is not a disability, but a pregnancy-related impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is one. Often, the women who have called the Women’s Law Project for help are having healthy pregnancies and need only minor accommodations, such as a chair for sitting or permission to carry a bottle of water at work, and courts have not yet applied the law to cases like these.

Without laws that provide increased protections for pregnant women in the workplace, employers are likely to continue to deny requests for minor job modifications to accommodate pregnancy. As a result, these women may be forced to continue working under hazardous conditions, exhaust any leave that might have been available to them prior to giving birth, and/or leave their jobs. Unemployed, these women lose their income, any employer-provided health insurance and other benefits, and work experience. As a result, they are at risk for reduced income for the rest of their lives.

It is time for new legislation that will meet the goals of the PDA. On the federal level, Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) have introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (S.942/H.R. 1975), which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer. On the state level, Pennsylvania should follow the example of several other states, including California, Hawaii, and Maryland, and pass a similar bill that would provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations. In Philadelphia, Councilmembers Greenlee, Reynolds-Brown, and Bass have introduced legislation (Bill No. 130687) that would amend the Fair Practices Ordinance to prohibit employers from refusing

 “to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, provided (i) the employee requests such accommodations and (ii) such accommodations will not cause an undue hardship to the employer.”

Women should not lose their jobs — placing their families at risk of poverty — because their employers have denied their requests for reasonable job accommodations. The promise of the PDA cannot be fully realized until the law prevents this discrimination from happening.


A Better Balance & the National Women’s Law Center, It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers

ADAAA, Pub. L. 110-325

ADAAA Regulations, 29 C.F.R. Part 1630.2(h) (2011)

Equal Rights Advocates, Expecting a Baby, Not a Lay-Off

Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 48 (1974)

General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976)

PDA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)(k) (2013)


Comments Off

Filed under Congress, Economic Justice, economic security, Employment, Philadelphia City Council, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers fairness

Pennsylvania is Failing Women

By Kate Michelman and Sue Frietsche

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way   it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights.

In fact, a quote from the report reads, “Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that is among the worst in the nation for women. Across 36 factors of economic security, leadership, and health, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the nation for how women are faring. This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Pennsylvania can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success, and living a healthy life.”

It goes from bad to worse in the report, whether it’s the fact that we scored a “D+” on economic factors for women (e.g., the 76 cents we still make to every dollar a man makes or the fact that 15% of us live in poverty), a “D” in leadership (our entire Congressional delegation contains one lone woman, and we hold less than 37% of the managerial positions in the state despite being 52% of the population), or a “C” in health (there is only one OB/GYN for approximately every 20,000 women in the state, we have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and our lawmakers are making it as difficult as possible for women to get reproductive health care).

It is beyond dispute that when the women of Pennsylvania do well, their families do well, their children thrive and communities prosper. That is reason enough for Pennsylvania to start climbing up from the bottom rungs of the 50 states.

But there is an even better reason, and simply put, it’s that Pennsylvania women deserve an equal shot at a good life. They deserve a state where they are treated equally at home, at work, and at school. They deserve a seat in the boardroom and at the table of government. They deserve a chance to live and work safely, with dignity – even when they’re pregnant or raising a family. They deserve the basic economic security essential to getting and staying healthy. They deserve the freedom to decide whether or not to have children in accordance with their beliefs, not under the boot of other people’s politics or religion.

So what can you do? Read the report, get motivated and do something about it. Get involved by getting smart about who you’re electing (or not electing) into office. Become an educated, vocal participant in exercising your civic duty, whether it’s visiting your legislators, writing letters to the editor, helping out at the polls – whatever inspires your civic passion. Above all, make your voice heard by voting, because Pennsylvania badly needs you in order to get back on the right track for our state’s women.

We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years, but a report like this shows we have miles to go. The women and men of Pennsylvania need to unite to effect real change for women, whether it is access to healthcare, economic security, or freedom from violence. And we need to pick up the pace while we’re at it. It’s simply taking too long to reach a place of true equality.


Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

Comments Off

Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, economic security, Family Violence, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Violence Against Women, Voter turnout, women voting, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA, working mothers, working women

The Wage Gap Starts in Childhood

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

Parents do their best to be good role models for their children; and for generations, they have given their children chores to do in exchange for an allowance in order to teach them responsibility and work ethic.  Sadly though, at a very young age, their children are also learning firsthand about the gender wage gap.  According to a recent article in Salon, parents are inadvertently teaching their daughters that their work is worth less than that of their sons.

A 2006 study conducted by University of Michigan economists found that girls spent two more hours per week doing chores than boys in a study of 3,000 kids.  Boys are enjoying more leisure time than their sisters, an imbalance that continues into adulthood.  According to the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development, men “report spending more time in activities counted as leisure than women.”

Not only are boys spending less time weekly on chores than girls, they are also making more money when they do them.  Boys’ chores appear to be more profitable, and parents deem the work done by boys to be more valuable than the chores done by girls —demonstrated by the fact that boys make more money per week than girls while working 2 hours less per week.  Boys tend to be assigned jobs like mowing the lawn, taking the trash out, or shoveling snow from the driveway; whereas girls tend to do indoor chores such as washing the dishes, cleaning bedrooms, or doing the laundry.  Parents find the work that boys do outside of the home more important and valuable than the traditionally “feminine” chores that girls do within the home.

These ideas and attitudes are perpetuated into adulthood.  A study conducted by Andrew Healy and Neil Mahorta shows that men who grow up with sisters do less housework than their wives.  This suggests that the gender separated chore environment from their childhood permanently altered their conception of gender roles.  It continues to reinforce the centuries-old idea that women battle every day in the working world: women belong in the home.  By telling children that girls do the dishes while boys take out the trash and that girls sweep the floors while boys shovel the driveways, parents make it clear that girls belong in the home, while boys belong outside of it.  A woman can’t “do a man’s job,” and she will always be paid and valued less for doing the same or more work.  They make it clear to their children that a woman’s work will always carry less worth than a man’s.

So here’s what parents should be doing: equally divide up the chores and equally pay each child. The same way that chores can reinforce traditional gender roles, sexism, and society’s acceptance of the wage gap, they can be used to develop egalitarian attitudes towards gender.  Ask your daughters to mow the lawn and your sons to fold the towels.  It could help reshape society and end the idea of traditional gender roles that support the wage gap.

Comments Off

Filed under Economic Justice, Equal pay, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sexism, Wage Gap

Shout Out: “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds”

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Last Friday, a group of congresswomen gathered on the steps of the Capitol to announce a new economic agenda titled “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.” The agenda addresses three areas of continued inequality and obstacles for women in the workforce: equal pay, work and family balance, and childcare.

Equal Pay: Women still make only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. This past April 9 was deemed Equal Pay Day, a date that marks how far into 2013 women had to work to earn what men earned in 2012. We cannot stand for this date to continue to be some sort of anniversary. To address the persistent wage gap between male and female workers, our congresswomen and congressmen proffer seven solutions. The agenda calls for an increase in minimum wage; investment in job training and education opportunities for women; support for women entrepreneurs and small business owners; and adequate tools to investigate wage discrimination. In addition, the agenda calls for the protection and restoration of employment rights, including those associated with paycheck fairness and pregnant workers fairness. This agenda furthers the call to action initiated by the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, launched June 10, 2013 by fifteen national and state-based women’s rights legal organizations, including the Women’s Law Project, on the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

To read more about the agenda for equal pay, click here.

To read more about the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, click here.

Work & Family Balance: The U.S. currently has no policy to ensure paid sick days and has no mandatory paid family leave policy. Current policy does not suit the structure of women’s lives, which in most cases involve the majority of childrearing, caretaking and household responsibilities. The new economic agenda calls for the address of current policy deficiencies, including provisions for paid sick leave; paid family and medical leave; and paid parental leave for federal employees. Ensuring work and family balance for working women is an economic imperative, given that women are now the breadwinners in 40% of households with children under age 18.

To read more about the agenda for work/family balance, click here.

Childcare: In the U.S., there is a drastic lack of high quality and affordable childcare. It is incredible that the U.S. currently ranks 28th out of 38 countries in the share of four year-olds enrolled in preschool. This is unacceptable considering high quality child care and early learning programs are imperative if the U.S. is to maintain educational benchmarks comparable to other developed nations. Adequate funding of childcare programs, improved training and pay for childcare workers, and expansion of the 2009 Child Care Tax Credit are just some of the actions called for in the When Women Succeed, America Succeeds agenda. President Obama’s Preschool for All and Early Learning initiatives, announced earlier this year, will also be crucial for efforts to raise the standard for childcare in the U.S. Women’s gains in the workplace and the promise of additional gains in the future must be supported by a commitment to providing accessible and high quality childcare.

To read about the agenda for childcare in full, click here.

Unfortunately, many predict that the agenda is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House. However, we can no longer afford to neglect the economic rights of women. Women have a right to equal pay for equal work, plain and simple. Furthermore, the persistent institutionalized sexism in many work environments is based in part on gender role stereotypes that label women as caregivers. As a result of policy loopholes and inadequacies, talented women are deprived opportunities to participate in the workplace on equal footing with men. When Women Succeed, America Succeeds is a productive step in outlining the connections between women’s economic status and the greater well-being of our children and the nation as a whole. Our state and national representatives must value women’s vital social and economic contributions and support policy that furthers gender equality.

Comments Off

Filed under Congress, Economic Justice, Equal pay, Wage Gap, working mothers, working women