Wisconsin law prohibits local units of government from enacting an ordinance that establishes a general minimum or “living” wage that is different than state law. However, there are exceptions to this prohibition for living wage ordinances that apply to local government employees or employees paid under contracts with local governments. Several Wisconsin counties and cities have enacted such ordinances.
Raising the minimum wage would benefit more than just the workers who would see a direct raise from the increase. Other low-wage workers who make slightly more than the amount to which the minimum wage is raised would also benefit from the positive “ripple effect” of raising the wage floor.
Importance to Women
Women, especially women of color, would greatly benefit from raising the minimum wage because of their overrepresentation in low-wage occupations. For instance, according to the National Women’s Law Center, 38% of working women—and 37% of working women of color—would get a raise if the minimum wage increased to $12.00 per hour by 2020.
Increasing the minimum wage would also help working moms who provide for their families. About one-third of Wisconsin single-moms would get a raise if the federal minimum wage was raided to $12 per hour by 2020.
Despite Congress’ continued failure to raise the minimum wage, several states have enacted minimum wage increases in recent years. New York, Washington D.C. , and California have all enacted $15 per hour minimum wages that will gradually go into effect in 2018, 2020, and 2023 respectively. Oregon passed a minimum wage increase the will vary by region and will be fully implemented in 2023, after which minimum wage increases will be indexed to inflation. Twenty-nine states have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage and 11 states index their minimum wages to inflation. Wisconsin is not among these states, which makes raising our state minimum wage even more critical for lower-wage workers.
Three separate pieces of legislation that would raise Wisconsin’s minimum wage were introduced during the 2015-2016 legislative session. These proposals would have raised Wisconsin’s minimum wage to between$10.10 per hour and $15 per hour. All three of the bills would have also increased the minimum wage for tipped employees (who are only required to receive $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage), but took very different approaches to doing so. For more information on each proposal, please see the more detailed issue brief on raising the minimum wage contained in the compendium to this report.
Effective and exciting advocacy for raising the minimum wage is also taking place in our communities. Organizations like Wisconsin Jobs Now and Fight for $15 have helped organize lower-wage workers and their allies across the state of Wisconsin to participate in rallies and protests urging local units of government to pass living wage ordinances that are allowable under current state law and individual businesses in traditionally low-wage employment sectors to voluntarily raise their employees’ wage.
How You Can Help
Call or email you legislators to urge them to support legislation that would increase the minimum wage.
Connect to organizations like Wisconsin Jobs Now and Fight for $15 that are already working on increasing the state’s minimum wage and organizing low-wage workers and their allies to urge individual businesses to increase their employees’ wages.
Balancing work and family responsibilities has become increasingly difficult for many working families. The cost of child care is a tremendous strain on many household budgets, especially in an economy where the majority of workers’ wages have been stagnant for the past generation. To put the cost of quality child care in perspective, the average cost of infant care at a child care center in Wisconsin is higher than the average cost of tuition at a public university. Child care costs are even more pronounced in urban areas, such as Milwaukee County, where the annual cost for center-based infant care is over 18% more than the statewide average, even though the median household income for a married couple family in Milwaukee County is actually lower than the statewide average by about 6.5%. This means that a median-income family in Milwaukee County would pay 17.3 % of their annual income towards child care for one infant.
Recent state child care policy changes in Wisconsin have had mixed results for working families. On the one hand, Wisconsin’s implementation of the Youngstar quality rating and improvement system has dramatically increased the overall quality of child care centers in the state. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s child care subsidy program for low-income families (Wisconsin Shares) has consistently been underfunded for the past seven years. As a result, fewer lower-income families can afford to send their children to high quality child care centers and many of the centers that have implemented quality improvements may not be able to sustain these improvements without higher reimbursement rates from the state.
According to Community Coordinated Child Care, Inc. ( 4-C), another current shortfall of Wisconsin Shares is that the program only has one eligibility scale for subsidies. This fails to account for regional cost of living disparities, which penalizes families in the higher cost counties that often have higher job growth. As a result, families lose child care subsidies before they can afford to pay for unsubsidized care. This affects their job stability and their children’s access to quality early childhood programs. Wisconsin also does not have a state Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC). The federal government provides very modest assistance to low-income families through the non-refundable federal CDCTC. Twenty-six states have state CDCTC’s, 12 of which are refundable.
Importance to Women
High child care costs represent a barrier to women’s participation in the labor force because working mothers tend to have lower salaries than male counterparts. The average working mother who earns at or below the poverty level would pay 43% of her income for full-time child care for a child under five.
Women continue to bear the majority of child care responsibilities, even in relationships where both partners work. Policies that make quality child care more affordable help remove work barriers.
The many women providing child care are themselves among the working poor.
What Wisconsin Can Do
The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families has created a thorough report of Wisconsin’s YoungStar and Wisconsin Shares programs that provides significant insights about how our state’s child care subsidy and child care quality programs interrelate and can be improved to better serve working families and child care service providers. The report recommends Wisconsin adopt the following three policies:
Create a new state funding stream separate from Wisconsin Shares of $10 million to existing child care programs that are either trying to achieve or sustain the two highest YoungStar quality ratings;
Increase Wisconsin Shares provider reimbursement rates to a level that would allow lower-income families to afford to send their children to high quality child care centers; and
Increase incentives for child care teachers and caregivers to enter and remain in the workforce.
In order to address regional cost disparities, 4-C recommends implementing several different eligibility scales based on a county’s cost of living, which would lead to more families transitioning out of poverty and a more stable workforce in many business sectors throughout the state.
Wisconsin could also follow the lead of other 12 other states and adopt a refundable state CDCTC. A refundable state CDCTC would allow many more low-income working families to take advantage of the tax credit.
How Can You Help?
Call or email your legislators and urge them to support legislation that would increase state funding for child care subsidies,create a refundable state CDCTC, provide more support to existing programs that are striving to meet higher quality standards, and increase career support and compensation for child care providers.
Nearly everyone who works will eventually need to take time off of work in order to care for themselves if they become seriously ill, care for a seriously ill family member, or care for a new baby. While many workers have access to unpaid leave either through the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or Wisconsin's state FMLA, only 12% of workers nationally have paid family leave through their employers and fewer than 40% have personal medical leave through an employer-provided, short-term disability program. As a result, many Wisconsin workers who take time off to take care for themselves or their families often face a significant loss of income. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide workers with any form of guaranteed paid leave from work.
Working women without access to paid leave are often forced to make incredibly difficult decisions about whether to take time off of work in order to care for themselves or their family members. Sadly, nearly 1 in 5 low-wage working moms have lost a job due to their own illness or to care for a sick child.
Despite the ongoing inaction from Congress regarding paid family and medical leave, several states have enacted state insurance programs that provide workers with access to paid family and medical leave. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all have state family paid leave insurance laws in effect. In 2016, New York and Washington, D.C. passed generous paid family and medical leave laws. New York’s law, which will go into effect in 2018, will be the most generous in the nation.
make all Wisconsin workers eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for personal or family illness, or to care for a new child;
provide job protection for workers who take leave for an eligible reason and work at a business that employs 25 or more people provide;
provide income replacement between 66% of wages for most workers and up to 95% of wages for those with lower incomes;
provide 2.6 million workers with paid leave insurance coverage through an employee contribution of between $2 - $3.50/week;
and, expand the definition of eligible family members for whom an employee could take paid leave to include siblings, grandchildren, and grandparents
While the legislation did not pass, paid family and medical leave advocates will continue building support for this legislation for the 2017-2018 legislative session.
How Can You Help?
Call or email your legislators and urge them to support the Wisconsin Paid Family and Medical Leave Act.
Connect with organizations such as 9to5Wisconsin or Family Values @ Work that are already working on making paid family and medical leave a reality for workers in Wisconsin.
Ensure Employees Have Paid Sick Days
For many workers in Wisconsin, choosing to take a day off of work if they are sick or to care for a sick family member means forfeiting a day’s pay and sometimes even their job, as Wisconsin law does not guarantee employees any “paid sick days.” Approximately 36% of American workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day. An even higher percentage (45.5%) of Wisconsin workers are without paid sick days. This is especially problematic for the individuals least likely to receive paid sick days, such as those who work in small businesses or in low paying jobs.
Paid sick days are important for much more than just recovering from illness-- they also cover days needed for wellness checkups for parents and children, as well as other routine health appointments. Sick days also benefit employers and the general public by reducing exposure to illness for both fellow employees and the general public. Paid sick days are also linked to higher productivity and lower turnover rates as well as lower overall costs of providing health insurance for employees.
In focus groups conducted by the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and 9to5 Wisconsin, women from multiple age groups indicated that paid sick days would significantly improve their quality of life and their families’ wellbeing. The participants expressed a strong need for some workplace flexibility in order to respond to life’s many unexpected caregiving challenges, for which most of these women were solely responsible within their families.
Wisconsin has already attempted to address the lack of paid sick days, but with little success. Voters in Milwaukee passed a paid sick leave ordinance that would mandate local employers provide workers with paid sick days, but the ordinance was voided by a state bill that preempted local ordinances that provide private-sector employees with paid time off.
Importance to Women
Although women and men are more likely today to share responsibilities for caring for relatives, women are still disproportionately more likely to be the primary caregiver to their children and their aging family members.
Women need time off to access preventive care and regular wellness checks. Access to these appointments is vital to maintaining general health and preventing long-term illness.
The flexibility afforded by paid sick days will allow victims of crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to recover from the trauma related to their victimization.
What Wisconsin Can Do
Most states, including Wisconsin, do not have regulations in place to mandate paid sick days. In 2016, legislation was introduced that would provide private sector workers with paid sick days under state law. Though the bill did not pass, the provisions of this bill serve as a great framework for future legislative action. Under the bill, employees would be able to earn up to nine sick days annually depending on how many hours they work during the year. The bill would also provide job protections to ensure that workers could use paid sick days without the risk of losing their jobs. Workers would be able to use the days for a number of qualifying events, including to recover from an illness, to care for an ill family member, or to recover from the trauma stemming from domestic or sexual violence. For more information on the bill’s details, see the detailed paid sick days issue brief contained in the compendium to this report.
How Can You Help?
Call or email your legislators and urge them to support paid sick days legislation.
Connect with organizations working to make paid sick days a reality in Wisconsin, such as 9to5Wisconsin.
As long as women have been established members of the workforce, there has been a gap in earnings between the genders. There are many causal factors that contribute to the “gender wage gap,” most of which have to do with longstanding, system-wide biases against women. These biases mean that 1) women and men don’t get the same type of jobs, 2) jobs for which women are usually hired pay less than jobs that men typically get, and 3) men and women get paid different amounts for the same work.
Since Congress’s formal ban on sex discrimination in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, our society has partially addressed some of the issues that contribute to the gender wage gap, which helped reduce the wage gap from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, the wage gap has remained fairly constant since 2001, with women in the United States earning about 80% of what their male counterparts earn.
Women in Wisconsin are no exception to the wage gap reality, earning approximately 78.9% of what their male counterparts earn, often for doing the same type of work-- jobs that involve the same effort, education, experience, and other qualifications. This is true of jobs requiring any level of education or experience, as the gap actually widens as education level increases. Highly educated women make about 26% less than equally educated male counterparts.
The gender wage gap is not just a statistical phenomenon; it is also a social reality about which many women are painfully aware of in their own lives. In recent focus groups conducted by the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and 9to5 Wisconsin, low- to moderate-income women from the greater Milwaukee area gave high priority to the issue of equal pay during their discussion of challenges they face in daily life. When asked what could be done to make life easier, the women cited that equal and fair pay for women and people of color would greatly improve their lives. A study conducted in 2015 affirms this priority, with 58% of women polled ranking equal pay to be the most important challenge for women in the workplace.
Importance to Women
The gender wage gap is closely intertwined with racial discrimination. Compared to white men, women of any race make significantly less, with Latina and African American women respectively making 52% and 63% of what white men make. Combatting this issue is a step toward improving overall equity in the workforce, especially for women of color.
Decreasing the gender wage gap is extremely important for families where women are the sole breadwinner, which also disproportionately affects women of color. As many as 63% of women with children are either the sole provider (41%) or co-provider (22%) in their house, shattering the norm that most families rely solely on men to make money.
What Wisconsin Can Do
Addressing this systemically ingrained wage bias against women requires a multifaceted policy approach and comprehensive array of policies. For more information regarding each issue listed below, see the more detailed gender wage gap issue brief and other policy briefs contained in the compendium to this report.
Reinstate Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Law that was repealed during the 2011-2013 legislative session.
Open the pathways for free and fearless discussion of wages. In many employment situations, there are rules laid out to deter workers from discussing their earnings, which can leave employees in the dark on the fairness of their salary.
Contact your state legislators and encourage them to support policies that would reduce the wage gap.
If you are a woman facing discriminatory behavior in your workplace, learn how to confront the issue and speak with your employer. Arm yourself with the facts about what you’re making, what you should be making, and your rights as an employee. If you would like further education on discussing equal pay with your employer, attend a seminar in your area.
Increase the State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is designed to help move low-income families out of poverty by providing an incentive to work. The EITC is a "refundable" tax credit, which means that it is available to workers even if they did not earn enough wages to pay federal or state income taxes. In order to claim the EITC, a tax filer must have some earnings from work.
There is both a federal EITC and a Wisconsin EITC, and many workers are eligible for both. The federal EITC is determined by a worker’s income, number of children, and marital status. The Wisconsin EITC is based on a percentage of the federal EITC (0%, 4%, 11%, or 34% depending on the number of qualifying children). Nationally, 1 in 5 people who are eligible for the EITC fail to claim the credit.
One weakness of both the federal and state EITC’s is that neither provides much benefit to low-income workers who do not have dependent children. The federal EITC is only available to workers without dependent children age 25 or older and is only a small fraction of the tax credit provided to workers with dependent children. Workers without dependent children are completely ineligible for the Wisconsin EITC.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin recently cut the state EITC as part of the 2011-2013 state budget, which increased the amount of taxes that lower-income families paid to the state between 2011-2015 by approximately $114 million.
Importance to Women
The federal EITC has been an incredibly successful tool for lifting women, and especially women of color, out of poverty. In 2014, the federal EITC lifted the incomes of more than 5.6 million people above the poverty line, including almost 1.6 million adult women, nearly 3.1 million children, nearly 1.2 million African Americans, and more than 2.3 million Latinos.
Many lower-income working moms cannot afford basic costs like child care and reliable transportation that are necessary in order to obtain and maintain stable employment. Increasing the state EITC will help make the costs of these necessities within the reach of more lower-income working moms.
Increasing the federal EITC has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement reached by Congress during recent years. Congress has both extended the eligibility for the federal EITC and increased the amount of the EITC for families with three or more children. These changes were recently made permanent. Wisconsin should follow Congress’ lead. During the 2015-2016 legislative session, two pieces of legislation were introduced that would improve the state EITC for lower-wage workers and their families:
The first bill would have restored the cuts that were made to the state EITC as part of the 2011-2013 state budget and created a refundable state EITC for lower-wage workers who do not have children.
The second bill would have allowed an individual to claim the state EITC for a child who does not have the same principal place of residence as the tax claimant and even if another person claims the federal and state EITC for the child, so long as the claimant is legally the parent of the child and in compliance with a child support order for the child
Unfortunately, neither piece of legislation passed into law.
How Can You Help?
Contact your state legislators and them to support legislation that would expand the state EITC.