Family Economic Stability

Corporate Voices for Working Families’ 2013 Annual Partners Meeting put the spotlight last week  on corporate leadership beyond the workplace, providing presentations rich in content, lively discussions and opportunities for attendees to network with other business leaders and policymakers.

The meeting provided a forum to examine and discuss a host of critical workforce readiness and work/life issues that are critically important to Corporate Voices’ partner companies. These included how employment pathways for younger workers just entering the world of work can benefit employees and employers; the opportunities and challenges in employer engagement in higher education; how demographic changes are reshaping the economic and political landscapes; new thinking in workplace diversity and corporate wellness; and how responsible corporate leaders can – and must – engage in national efforts to foster job creation and stronger economic growth.

ImageJim Quigley, CEO Emeritus of Deloitte, gave one of the keynote presentations, demonstrating how critical it is for business leaders to lead by example and foster a culture of values and respect. Quigley, co-author of As One: Individual Action, Collective Power, led the audience on a “conversation on leadership.”

“As leaders I would challenge you to consider whether the conditions for success are in place,” he said. “Have we created clarity about our key goals? Can we communicate these ideas in a way that we can be successful?”

Dr. Michael Dimock, Director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, led the second keynote presentation. He engaged the audience with a discussion of values, demographics, generations and technology, highlighting how policymakers need to forge Imagesolutions to the significant problems facing our nation and working families – while spotlighting the importance for business leaders, and the businesses they represent, to engage in a manner that fosters job creation and stronger economic growth.

Among the takeaways from Dimock’s presentation was a point relevant to public policy work: Pew research indicates that American public opinion on values hasn’t changed over the years, but the extent of political partisanship has changed significantly.

One of the many highlights of the Annual Meeting was a 90-minute briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that was organized exclusively for Corporate Voices by the White House staff. During the briefing, members of the Obama Administration shared their insights and perspectives on current and planned initiatives involving the jobs, training, education, economic and health and wellness issues of interest to our partner companies.

During the briefing, Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the Council on Women and Girls and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, said, “From the start of this Administration, Corporate Voices for Working Families has been a great partner on important issues.”

Corporate Voices’ Annual Partners Meeting – with generous sponsorship provided by Baxter International, KPMG, The TJX Companies, Johnson & Johnson, Ryan and SelectPlus — was held March 20-22, at the Loews Madison Hotel, Washington, D.C.

To view all presentations from this year’s Annual Meeting, please click here.



The nation’s official poverty rate held steady last year, according to annual figures released this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau. And that was greeted as good news by many analysts, who had predicted yet another year of increases in the number of poor Americans suffering the lagging effects of the last recession.

The bureau reported that 15 percent of all Americans lived below the poverty line in 2011—down a fraction from 15.1 percent the year before. That translates to 46.2 million Americans living in poverty—defined as $23,021 a year for a family of four. Among U.S. children, some 16 million—nearly 22 percent—were poor.  And more than a quarter of black and Hispanic Americans remained poor, despite modest improvements in Hispanic poverty rates.

Reflecting the weak economy, median household income edged downward, by 1.5 percent, to $50,054.  After adjusting for inflation, the typical family was earning less last year than it did in the mid-1990s.  And the longstanding trend in income disparities continued, with the “income gap” between the lowest- and highest-earning Americans wider than ever.

In a bit of good news, the government reported that the number of Americans covered by health insurance rose modestly—a result of increases in Medicare and Medicaid, along with employer-provided health insurance, which did not drop last year for the first time in a decade. The improvement also reflects the early impact of the national health reform law, which allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

At Corporate Voices, these findings are an important reminder that employers can play a very real and valuable role in improving the lives of working families. We offer a range of free toolkits and other resources to help you help your employees. By educating workers about tax credits and other benefits they have earned and supporting low-wage workers in managing their work-life balance, employers can help lower-income workers retain more of their paycheck and improve their economic stability.

While many young Americans describe the receipt of a high school diploma as a moment in which all their hard work and commitment has finally ‘paid off’, their slightly older peers will be there to remind them that this ‘paid’ feeling is not to last.

Recently, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University surveyed 544 high school graduates who are not enrolled full time in college. Fully 73 percent of these young Americans feel that a college degree is a necessary step in securing a successful future, only half said they will enroll in college in the near future.

It is assumed that those who do not go on to pursue a college education will try their luck in the workforce. Yet the survey noted that only 37 percent of people who graduated between 2006 and 2008 currently have a full-time job. Of those who graduated only a few years later in what the study dubbed the ‘recession era’ (2009-2011), a mere 16 percent had found full-time employment. Another 22 percent were working part time, but most wanted full-time work.

The main reason given by those who did not seek a college education was economics. In fact, 80 percent of respondents cited an economic barrier to going to college full time. Whether it is due to the high tuition, the need to work to support themselves, or the responsibility of caring for family, many who desire college simply cannot afford it.

The Rutgers survey noted that many chose to enter the workforce instead of going to college because most of their parents had done the same. However, only one in ten surveyed felt that they were “extremely well prepared by their high school to succeed in their job after graduation”. Furthermore, less than half of high school graduates without a college education thought that they would have more financial success than their parents.

In a sobering outlook on their future, barely half of the youth surveyed believed they would find a job that could be considered the start of their career within the “next few years”. Similarly, close to the same percent believed that if this job were to be found, it would come without health insurance.

As a result of the formidable unemployment concern in a nation considered the richest in the world, less than half of 18-24 year old high school graduates not enrolled full time in college believe that the near future holds for them a job that would allow them “to lead a comfortable life.”

At Corporate Voices for Working Families, much of our work is focused on identifying and promoting employer-driven solutions to the challenges facing young adults like those surveyed here.  Our own research on this population is summarized in our 2011 report, A Profile of Young Workers (16-26) in Low-Income Families. The study highlighted the financial and educational shortcomings associated with employees from low-income families, and contrasts their experience with that of their peers from higher-income households.

Similarly, our work with the New Options Project, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, aims to align the hiring needs of employers with new sources of untapped talent—including young people lacking a high school diploma, but eager to find meaningful career opportunities that match their skills. Recently, the New Options Project launched a micro-site called Connecting Youth and Business to aid employers in creating employment and educational opportunities for underserved or “opportunity” youth. And our Learn & Earn initiative and related work around postsecondary completion, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to encourage innovative partnerships between employers, community colleges and higher education institutions to help today’s “working learners”—often low-income young adults—complete their education while holding down a job.  By advancing policy solutions like these, we are working with progressive business leaders to improve the lives of too many young people who have been left behind in today’s challenging labor market.

On Monday, February 13, 2012, President Obama released his proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Budget. While the president’s Budget is effectively a blueprint for the next fiscal year, it also offers an early glimpse of his administration’s key priorities for both tax policy and government spending, and sets the stage for his reelection themes. Ultimately, the president’s budget proposal must traverse the divided legislative branch and its toxic atmosphere–thus, rendering another presidential Budget “dead on arrival”.

With that said, a clear picture of President Obama’s election year priorities emerges from the 2013 Budget. Corporate Voices applauds the administration’s focus on building the skills of American workers through several key proposals.  The Pathways Back to Work Fund, for example, includes continued support of the Workforce Innovation Fund, that, paired with broader waiver authority, will encourage States, regions, and localities to break down barriers among programs, test new ideas, and replicate proven strategies for delivering bet­ter employment and education results in a more cost-effective way. Similarly, the Budget also proposes a new Community College to Career Fund, an $8 billion initiative designed to improve access to job training across the nation by supporting State and community college partnerships with businesses to build the skills of American workers. For more on the proposal, please see this White House summary.

Building on its community college focus, the president’s budget also includes funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAA CCCT) program, to help community colleges—partnering with employers and local workforce boards–improve and expand their programs to meet local and regional labor market demands. Through rigorous evaluation, data collection, and greater use of employer collaboration and online learning, the program will help colleges advance approaches that will produce the greatest returns for their students.

In the arena of tax policy, Corporate Voices is pleased to see that the Budget permanently extends expansions of the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit that were passed in the Recovery Act and continued as part of the bipartisan Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act that the President negotiated and signed into law in December of 2010.

While the likelihood of President Obama’s FY 2013 Budget passing through Congress as it stands is very slim, Corporate Voices is encouraged to see an emphasis on building partnerships between community colleges and employers and replicating innovative training programs that produce results and help to improve the lives of America’s working families.

Over the course of the last quarter century, the dialogue about opportunity and social mobility in America has fundamentally changed. Now, the dialogue centers not on opportunities for upward social mobility, but on consequences and how certain groups are experiencing downward mobility from the middle class. This is the main subject of a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts called, “Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up from the American Dream.”

The study finds that a third of Americans who were raised in the middle class have fallen down the income ladder as adults. This downward social mobility is driven by factors such as education, marital status, test scores, drug use, gender and race. Namely, those most likely to experience downward mobility are:

  • Men and women who are divorced or never married;
  • Men and women who do not obtain education beyond high school;
  • Those who receive low scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT); and
  • Those engaged in heavy drug use.

Among white men and women, women were more likely to be downwardly mobile than men, and African-American men raised in middle class families were 17 percentage points more likely to fall from the middle class than white men raised in the middle.

The survey tracked Americans from youth into adulthood—the data focused on people who were middle-class teenagers in 1979 and who were between 39 and 44 years old in 2004 and 2006. It defined people as middle-class if they fell between the 30th and 70th percentiles in income distribution. For a family of four, that’s between $32,900 and $64,000 a year in 2010 dollars. If people fell below the 30th percentile in income, they were considered downwardly mobile.

Noteworthy is that the most important factor accounting for racial differences in the mobility gap were average test scores, highlighting the importance of education and the link between education and economic stability.

As the Pew study notes,

 “A key element of the American Dream is that each generation will exceed the living standards and economic position of the one that came before it. At the very least, parents want to ensure that their own economic position will transfer to their children.”

The findings of the Pew study, however, upend that dream, and shed light on the sober reality that many Americans are experiencing: it is becoming increasingly more difficult to enter and stay in the middle class. This downward mobility, and the “unraveling” of the middle class, is a trend that other studies, such as one published by the national policy group Demos, are confirming.

As more Americans find themselves falling down the income ladder, businesses can play a positive role in helping lower-wage workers maintain economic stability. By educating workers about tax credits and other benefits that they have earned, supporting low-wage workers in managing their work-life balance, and by supporting nursing mothers at work, employers can help lower-income workers retain more of their income and improve their quality of life.

Corporate Voices for Working Families has published practical toolkits to help employers, in turn, help their hourly workers, recognizing that policies and practices to do so positively affect the business bottom-line. In fact, the following toolkits published by Corporate Voices help businesses improve their recruitment and retention rates, employee productivity and engagement levels and help lower health care costs.

  • The 2010 Employer Guide: this guide provides businesses with practical tools, like paycheck stuffers, posters and a guidebook that provides information about the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Medicaid and other benefits.
  • Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms, and Excellent Employees!: This online workplace lactation toolkit gives employers practical information about new federal workplace lactation provisions, and how they can implement lactation programs to support nursing mothers in hourly positions. Including things like employer talking points, a lactation room checklist and breastfeeding resources for new moms, this toolkit supports a mother’s choice to breastfeed while also helps businesses engage a key segment of the labor force.
  • Workplace Flexibility Toolkits for Hourly Employees and Managers: This set of toolkits help managers effectively implement flexible work arrangements (FWAs) for hourly workers. They also help workers assess what kind of flexibility they need and give them useful tips on how to request an FWA.

At a time when the middle class is struggling with the challenges of high unemployment, the rising costs of health care, child care and college tuition, and when many Americans are finding themselves sliding out of the middle class, it is helpful to remember ways that businesses can play a role in improving the lives of working families.

Note: Corporate Voices encourages employers to use its toolkits free of charge. Re-branding opportunities, however, are only available to Corporate Voices partner companies.

This post was originally published on the MomsRising blog by Stephen M. Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week.

As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, 170 countries will be taking part in activities to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding to maternal and infant health around the world. This year’s theme is “Talk to Me! Breastfeeding—a 3 D Experience,” and focuses on using communication to break down barriers and to encourage sectors outside the health care field to participate in the breastfeeding dialogue. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has specifically chosen to engage youth as a valuable ally in increasing intergenerational communication about breastfeeding.

Another valuable ally in this public health movement, however, is the business community. Building on this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week, a critical way to enhance communication across sectors and create awareness for breastfeeding is to engage employers. Communicating with and engaging the business community is especially important given that the workplace is a significant barrier to breastfeeding for women, especially those in hourly, low-wage positions.

We know that 77 percent of mothers in retail or lower-wage jobs give up breastfeeding after returning to work, despite its health and business benefits. This is because continuing to breastfeed at work is so difficult– especially for those who don’t have access to a clean or private place to pump milk, scheduling flexibility to do so, or supportive managers and colleagues.

Health care reform was intended to address this problem last year– for the first time, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to provide nonexempt nursing mothers with reasonable break time and a sanitary, private space, that is not a bathroom, to pump milk at work.

The rationale for this amendment was based on the benefits of breastfeeding to working families and businesses. Given that mothers with infants are one of the largest and fastest-growing segments in the workforce, particularly in lower-wage industries, helping to support nursing mothers at work is a priority for the economic security and health of mothers, infants and working families in America.

We also know that there is a business case for breastfeeding. Best practice employers have long known that work-life supports like lactation programs improve bottom-line results. Businesses that support nursing mothers have realized cost savings of $3 for every $1 invested in breastfeeding support. Through improved recruitment, retention, productivity and lower health care costs, supporting nursing mothers at work makes good business sense.

As a human resources consultant at PNC Financial Services Group, one of Corporate Voices’ corporate partners, stated, “At PNC, providing breastfeeding support has a positive business impact through an increase in prospective qualified applicants, employee productivity, retention and reduced absenteeism. It also is simply the right thing to do. From corporate policies to administration by managers, PNC’s culture advocates for and accommodates a working mother’s need for a lactation room.”

While the new federal lactation law spotlighted an important health issue and helped remove the workplace as a barrier to breastfeeding, there is still much to be done to educate businesses about lactation programs and workplace support for nursing mothers. This is because even after passage of the law, only 28 percent of businesses have lactation rooms. And, according to a survey commissioned by Workplace Options and conducted by Public Policy Polling, 57 percent of people are not aware of the new federal workplace lactation law.

It is therefore evident that to help ensure successful implementation of the law, we need to help make tools and resources available to employers to educate them about the benefits of breastfeeding, and about how to set up successful lactation programs.

That is why Corporate Voices for Working Families released an updated version of its online workplace lactation toolkit earlier this year. This toolkit offers free, high-quality and up-to-date guides to help employers comply with the new lactation law and establish lactation programs. Titled “Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms and Excellent Employees,” the toolkit includes:

  • Employer talking points to help facilitate a conversation about breastfeeding
  • Lactation room checklists and worksheets
  • Breastfeeding resources fliers
  • Breastfeeding tips and techniques in 21 languages
  • Break Room and Lactation Room posters
  • Success stories, and more.

Features of the toolkit, like the Employer Talking Points, will support the communications theme of World Breastfeeding Week by helping to facilitate a workplace friendly conversation about breastfeeding between employers and employees. Recognizing there may be a stigma attached to starting a conversation about a very personal issue at work, these talking points encourage supervisors to break the ice, offering words of encouragement and letting expecting mothers know that lactation support will exist for them.

By making these tools and resources available to employers, Corporate Voices is working to close the gap in lactation support, and help working families and businesses become healthier and more competitive in the 21st century. Hopefully best practices in American might encourage wider lactation support for mothers around the world.

Recipients of Working Mother Media's 2011 Best Companies for Hourly Workers Award

On May 3, Working Mother Media recognized twelve companies which won this year’s 2011 Best Companies for Hourly Workers Award. These “terrific twelve” are first-rate examples of the leadership businesses can show to improve the lives of our nation’s 73 million hourly workers.

By offering their employees flexible work arrangements, tuition support, health insurance, child-care help and more, the award recipients highlight the business value of programs that go above and beyond job-related training, to increasing opportunities for the personal and professional development of hourly workers.

This is especially important today as young people, especially those from low-income families, have been hit hard by the Great Recession. Opportunities for training and education are critical to get these young people engaged in the labor market and able to pursue careers. As Donna Klein, Corporate Voices’ Executive Chair and CEO said during the Best Companies awards ceremony,

“Since the 2007 recession began, the climb up the ladder to establish a career has become harder and steeper. 75 percent of those high school students who do not go onto college cite ‘money’ as the reason for their choice. Today young people have to work–they need to set aside the goal of more education or training…And that means they have little or no assistance in navigating between the dilemma of having to work and understanding they will need more education. They are at a choice point, yet they have little choice.”

The winners of the Best Companies for Hourly Workers Award are, however, helping their workers have a choice. All of this year’s winners offer their 626,000 employees tuition reimbursement to pursue their education, job-skills training, support with certifications, degrees and ESL courses, and life-skills training in financial literacy and computer training.

Bon Secours, for example, offers its hourly workers tuition pre-pay assistance to help reduce the financial burdens and concerns related to pursuing an education. The company also has an on-site School at Work program, which prepares high-potential hourly workers for nursing and other medical careers. It also puts a strong emphasis on succession planning– helping to encourage  employees to grow within the company and pursue careers.

And Capital One offers both customer service and leadership training for their nonexempt workers. Through Capital One University, a nationally-recognized training organization, the company offers traditional classroom courses as well as online learning tools and resources, and the financial support to pay for it. It also offers flexible work arrangements and encourages pumping breaks for nursing moms.

These work-life and educational supports play an important role in improving companies’ recruiting, retention and turnover rates, and thereby support their profitability and bottom-line. But they also play an important social role in helping lower-income workers manage work and life, and pursue an education–key to economic security and upward mobility in the labor market today.

Having employers and communities play a role in increasing the education levels of the workforce is critical today, when so many adults don’t pursue education past high school. According to 2010 census data, only 35 percent of the adult population over 25 have an Associate’s degree or higher. The rest fall into the broad category of not having a high school diploma, having a high school diploma, or having attended some college but haven’t earned a degree. This is troubling, given that research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has shown that a majority of jobs within the next decade will require at least some postsecondary education.

Indeed, the economic and job market  implications of not having higher levels of education are clear– the unemployment rate for adults without a high school diploma is a whopping 13.7 percent. It is 7.4 percent for those with some college or an Associate’s degree and only 4.4 percent for those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

But while education is the key to employment and economic security, the financial challenges of pursuing an education cited earlier remain a key challenge. In a recent AP/Viacom survey of 18-24-year-olds, forty percent who had graduated high school said that money was a “big factor” in deciding whether to continue their education past high school.  And, of college students who had seriously considered dropping out of college, 58 percent said financial problems were a factor.

Recognizing employers like Working Mother’s Best Companies for Hourly Workers, therefore, is important to identify best practices for enhancing the skills of the workforce, and to encourage others to do the same. As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said during the awards ceremony luncheon,

“You’re transforming the way we do work in this country … you’re making us better… in many ways, you’re making history.”

One important best practice related to supporting education is workplace flexibility. According to “A Profile of Young Workers in Low-Income Families,” a report released by Corporate Voices at the Best Companies Awards ceremony, low-income youth whose employers do offer training or education programs are more likely to be enrolled in such programs than youth who don’t have that opportunity. It also finds that when lower-income youth have access to scheduling flexibility and control over their work schedules, they are much more likely to be enrolled in training programs.

There is also a business case for flexibility, as Corporate Voices’ “Business Impacts of Flexibility: An Imperative for Expansion” shows. The report, updated and expanded since its initial publication in 2005, also illustrates flexibility’s growing role as a strategic business imperative for both domestic and global enterprises.

In addition to the best practices spotlighted by the Best Companies for Hourly Workers, Corporate Voices is also identifying and encouraging those companies involved in innovative Learn and Earn partnerships with community colleges. These Learn and Earn partnerships, as outlined in “From an Ill-Prepared to Well-Prepared Workforce: The Shared Imperatives for Employers and Community Colleges to Collaborate,” engage both employers and educational institutions within communities to help individuals complete their postsecondary education.

As we continue on our road to recovery, let’s continue to think of the positive and valuable ways employers can help working families maintain economic security and help young workers build their careers– hopefully this year’s Best Companies for Hourly Workers will set the standard for employers in the future.

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