Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
We often hear that women make 77 cents for every dollar men make in the United States. But some researchers say that figure may be far higher, if for example you take into account all employment, including part-time work. We explore what the “pay gap” really means, and how salaries compare here and abroad.
- Ariane Hegewisch Study Director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
- Heather Boushey Senior Economist, Center for American Progress
- Joan Williams Distinguished Professor of Law, Founder and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.50 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" connecting your neighborhood with the world. Back in the '60s when researchers first started looking at the gap between men's and women's salaries, the picture was dismal for women. They earned just over half of what men earned for the same work, 59 cents on the dollar. That number today is 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, but some researchers say the number could be far higher if you include one overlooked area, part-time work, because part-time work comes with a much higher penalty, if you will.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd the numbers for African-American and Latino women are worse still and it affects men, too. We will explore the pay gap and why part-time work should be part of the equation. Joining us in the studio to have this conversation is Joan Williams. She's a distinguished professor of law and the founder and director for the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. Joan Williams, thank you for joining us.
MS. JOAN WILLIAMSThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Heather Boushey, she is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress. Heather Boushey, thank you for joining us.
MS. HEATHER BOUSHEYThank you.
NNAMDIAnd also joining us in the studio is Ariane Hegewisch, the study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Ariane Hegewisch, thank you also for joining us.
MS. ARIANE HEGEWISCHThank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation with your comments or questions at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Shoot us a tweet at kojoshow or go to -- send us an e-mail to email@example.com. Heather Boushey, researchers have been looking at the pay gap between men and women for decades, but how do you measure this gap?
BOUSHEYWell, I measure it a couple of ways. I mean, first of all, I think it's important to look at the overall gap between what men and woman earn in the labor market because that does take into account the fact that women are more likely to work part-time, still more likely to take off time out of the labor force and this sort of gets at the overall picture. But you have to remember that when we look at the overall pay gap, we are -- we're not necessarily taking into account everything. So, for example, recently, a few weeks ago, there was an article in Time Magazine that said among men and women between the ages of 22 and 30, if they were single and childless, the women earn more. And that's sort of looking at the big aggregate wage gap.
BOUSHEYBut what that doesn't take into account is the differences between men and women in terms of education attainment and the kinds of jobs they have. The interesting thing that's been going on, and it doesn't show up in our aggregate pay gap figures, is that women have been getting more education, especially young women. They're outpacing men, but we haven't seen the pay gap close. And we should see it close if we continue to think, as a society, that if you get more education, you should earn more in the labor market.
NNAMDIDo you compare a man and a woman working in the same job or do you compare the average salaries of women and the average salaries of men?
BOUSHEYWell it depends on the question, exactly what you're trying to get at. But, you know, when you look -- when you sort of do that Granny Smith apple to Granny Smith apple comparison and you look at men and women with the same kinds of education, graduating from the same kinds of schools and if you're just looking at college educated graduates with the same kinds of majors who take the same kinds of jobs, we see -- or the American Association for University Women sees -- and I'm citing their work.
BOUSHEYOne year out, women continue to make just a 5 percent less than men do. So when you do that Granny Smith apple to Granny Smith apple comparison, there is a pay gap. It starts as soon as women graduate from college. And when you look at the overall story, you do continue to see a pay gap as well.
NNAMDIOne of the reasons I asked that -- and we'll get to the other issues of part-time work in one second -- is because today, it was reported by The New York Times, I think it was, or The Washington Post that more women now earn PhDs than men for the first time. And I'm trying to figure out what to make of that.
BOUSHEYWell you know a PhD is the one degree that you can earn where you actually earn less than if you typically -- if you'd just kept your Masters so that may not be the best comparison, as I constantly have to remind myself. But certainly, you know, that is a part of the larger trend. Women are going to school. They're graduating from college more than men and especially women in their 20s are going back to school and getting those degrees because they think it's going to help them in the labor force. And, of course, it does, but we can't ignore the fact that even within those educational groups, that pay gap remains.
NNAMDIOn to the issue of part-time work. Part-time work is an area we don't usually look at very closely in terms of pay differences. What say you are the penalties for part-time work?
BOUSHEYWell, there's, you know, the real challenge with part-time work is that there's not a lot of jobs that allow somebody to work part-time. So if you're going to work part-time, you're sort of pushed into a small number of industries and occupations. So that's one of the challenges. And those industries and occupations tend to be paid less so that's one piece of the puzzle. But then, on top of that, you do see this penalty for men and women who do part-time work.
BOUSHEYAnd I think it's worth pointing out that actually the penalty for working part-time is bigger for men than for women because it's sort of in these very gender-segregated occupations which already have a pay penalty. So, you know, there is a penalty. It's significant and it's about -- it's because there's this small number of occupations.
NNAMDIJoan Williams, part-time work is an area that you have looked at in particular with the pay gap that we're talking about. How does it affect women specifically?
WILLIAMSWell, the standard measure for women's economic equality in the United States is the pay gap so women earn 77 cents for what men earn. The problem is women are much, much more likely than men to work part-time and there's a highly artificial penalty for working part-time. So the last time I looked, if you compared part-time and full-time workers, women only earn 59 cents for every dollar men earned.
WILLIAMSIn other words, there's a very, very substantial pay gap for working the pattern that many, many women work. And after all, what's full time? The definition of full-time has changed a lot over the past 100 years. There's only one thing that's never changed, which is the job schedule that's defined as full-time is the job schedule traditionally worked by a man. Anything else is defined as part-time and suffers a very artificial pay gap.
NNAMDICan you explain that, please, that the definition of full-time is essentially a gender-based definition?
WILLIAMSWell, if you think about the definition of full-time in the 1880s, for example, full-time was probably 12 hours a day, six days a week. That was full-time. Then the unions brought us the eight-hour day and the five-day week. Although in the past 20 years, you have a bifurcation. But in professional managerial jobs, full-time often is no longer 40 hours a week. It's now 50, 60, 70 hours a week.
WILLIAMSAnd so the definition of full-time, in fact, is very, very malleable historically, but it's always linked to the amount of time a man works. And I should mention it's usually a man working who is supported by a flow of family work from his wife or his partner and so she is able to work less time. Not always, but often because she's doing a different kind of work, this work of the family. And if there's a highly artificial penalty for everybody who cannot live up to that full-time ideal, it's going to be a penalty that takes itself out on women.
NNAMDIAriane Hegewisch, if you do part-time work in this country, you're not likely to get the same hourly rates and benefits as you would if the job was -- or full-time, what would be the case in Europe?
HEGEWISCHYou're absolutely right. If you're part-time, it's about a quarter less likely to get health care. I guess health care is the elephant in the room. They're less likely to have paid sick leave. They're less likely to get vacation. You know, there was a study done by the Family Work Institute which showed that 60 percent of employees who have colleagues who are part-timers or full-timers in the same place, say that part-timers get less per hourly paid and they get less benefits. In Europe, that's illegal now. We have two routes in Europe which made this illegal.
HEGEWISCHOne is to say that because it's more likely that women work part-time to look after kids or elderly relatives, if you treat part-timers worse than full-timers, it discriminates against women. It's called disparate impact, discrimination here in the U.S., and that already went out of the window in the late '70s. And the first case they had was saying that preventing women from entering occupational pension schemes, getting pension subsidy from their employer just because they worked part-time was discrimination. And now, it covers everything.
HEGEWISCHThe second issue is that now there is a directive in the European Union which holds for all 27 European Union countries which basically says, it is discrimination. Like, you cannot discriminate on the basis of gender or race to pay somebody less or not to hire them or to give them fewer benefits just because they work fewer hours.
NNAMDIAnother difference is that in most European countries, any job can become part-time if a worker needs more flexibility. Is that correct?
HEGEWISCHThey're trying to get into that direction. You don't have an absolute right, as you would have say, to take maternity leave, which incidentally is another benefit where the U.S. is an outlier, that you don't have a right to paid leave as a parent. But now, a lot of European countries have introduced labor standards which make it easier to access part-time work and other forms of flexibility. So you can go to your employer and say, look, I have an elderly father. I need to take care of him. It's very hard for me to continue working full-time. I would like to shift my hours around and I think this is how it works.
HEGEWISCHAnd the employer kind of has to give this preferential consideration. So if it's really impossible to do it business-wise, the employer can say no. The intention of the law is to improve the economy and people's work life. But the employer has to be paying attention to it and take the requests seriously. And in some countries, that actually has produced good results.
NNAMDIAnd in many countries in Europe, the elephant in the room in the United States is not in the room in Europe because a lot of benefits, like health care, are provided by the state.
NNAMDIOkay. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. If you're working part-time, do you get benefits, like health insurance and a pension? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask a question there. Heather Boushey, this might surprise some people, but you've pointed out that the part-time penalty in this country is actually worse for men?
BOUSHEYYes. As I was saying, you know, because your question to Ariane a second ago about whether or not people in other countries have the opportunity to work part-time in any job is simply not the case here in the United States. If you want to work part-time, there's only a small number of jobs that you can take. You know, about half the people who work part-time work in just, you know, a handful of occupations.
BOUSHEYSo if you want to work part-time, maybe you're in retail or another sector where there's a lot of part-time work. So that means that those people that choose these jobs, they're typically choosing less-paid jobs at the bottom so both men and women who choose them are suffering that pay penalty.
BOUSHEYBut because men typically earn more, that penalty is bigger for them if they need to or want to choose part-time work. Which, of course, is given the fact that the vast majority of the families in the United States today have both adults, if it's a two-parent couple or a two -- a couple with two folks, they're both in the labor force. And if they need to care for children or the elderly and somebody needs to work part-time, if he does it, it's a bigger pay gap that the family has to face.
NNAMDIWell, let's go for more controversial. Employers are actually, it would appear, more tolerant of women who work part-time for part of their career than men. How does that affect the career employee?
BOUSHEYPart -- the part-time penalty is steeper for men in a different way as well. The expectation is that the employee is going to be working full-time for their entire career. And what we find is that anybody who doesn't live up to that ideal, suffers a career penalty. But what the studies are beginning to show is that if a man takes even a short time off for a family reason, that he suffers workplace detriments, bad performance evaluations and fewer work place rewards. And this -- the penalty to men is even greater than the penalty to women.
BOUSHEYWe call this the flexibility stigma. So the flexibility stigma is even greater for men than for women. And I think that that's a very powerful force in discouraging men from, for example, taking advantage of flexible work arrangements, which simply means that it's only women who do, which means that those arrangements continue to be stigmatized and that the roles within the household between men and women just don't shift. And this is one of the points that I stress in my forthcoming book, "Reshaping the Work Family Debate."
NNAMDIWe're discussing part-time pay gaps and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. If you haven't yet, now is a good time to call. We still have a few lines open. Are there good opportunities for part-time work, you feel, in your field, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing the part-time pay gap with Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Heather Boushey is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress and Joan Williams is a distinguished professor of law and the Founder and Director of the Center for Work life Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. We go immediately to the telephones and to Josiah in Annapolis Junction, Md. Josiah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSIAHHello, Kojo. I am one of your younger listeners. I enjoy your show. My question was, shouldn't we take into account the risk adjusted pay for women and men? So that is to say if we were to look at the unemployment rate for men and women we will find that it's much -- it tends to be much higher for men, especially during this recession. So if we took that into account, wouldn't the pay gap actually be smaller than what we are looking at?
BOUSHEYThat's an -- it's an interesting question. You know, Josiah, you are right, of course, that men's unemployment has been hit higher -- hit harder during this great recession than women's have. But as we've seen some jobs start to come back, men have been more likely to gain jobs. So they're both hit more on the down swing, but also gained more -- are gaining more jobs on the upswing so that does kind of even out. I think your question gets it to the important role that women's earnings are playing in family well being.
BOUSHEYIf you have -- a lot of families in America, over the great recession, have seen that the husband -- that he was more likely to lose the job than she was, which really stresses how important this pay gap is for families because they are -- many families have been living on her lower wages. So in some sense, the risk adjustment goes both ways. He has higher unemployment, but that pay gap means that the family, when he isn't working, can't afford as much. So if women had fair pay, that would level the playing field a bit.
NNAMDIJosiah, thank you very much for your call. Joan Williams, we've got this e-mail from Ryan who says, "has anyone stopped to think that the similar survey would very likely show a correlation between higher wages and say, brown eyed people or maybe left handed people are more likely to be promoted? I have to wonder how many people have forgotten their introduction to statistics 101. Remember that," quoting here, "correlations do not necessarily prove causation." How would you respond?
WILLIAMSWell, in the United States, there's a time divide. People at the top of the heap tend to work long hours. People at the bottom of the heap tend to not even be able to get enough hours. So there are class reasons in the United States why people work part-time. But in addition, there are also gender reasons why people work part-time. And women with children are a classic group that are heavily part-time when compared to the rest of the population.
WILLIAMSSo I -- what I would say is that you -- and if you ask those people why they work part-time, if you ask the people at the bottom of the heap, they'll tell you that they work part-time because they can't get full-time jobs because their employers don't want to pay them benefits. If you ask the women who are working part-time, most often they'll tell you they are working part-time for family reasons. So this is not just a correlation. These are causations as well.
NNAMDICare to comment, Heather?
BOUSHEYWell, I think that, you know, I certainly agree with Joan's point. And I would add that, you know, a lot of the analyses shows that once you account for everything that we think should affect how much you're paid, you still find this part-time -- this penalty for part-time work, that there's a negative effect of part-time work on people's pay. And that's really the question you need to be asking.
BOUSHEYOnce you look at people who are of about the same age or of the same race, had the same education, work in the same kinds of jobs and whatnot, is there still a part-time penalty? And we find that there continues to be one. That doesn’t prove that part-time leads to lower pay in of itself, but it does give you a lot of evidence that there's a strong correlation between working part-time hours and experiencing lower wagers, all else equal.
NNAMDIHave you worked part-time and experienced a part-time penalty? Are you experiencing one such now? You want to call us and share your experience at 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website kojoshow.org. If you've already called, stay on the line. But I wanted to expand the conversation a little bit more. Ariane Hegewisch, you've looked at several other countries beyond Europe and beyond the United States. How does the U.S. compare to other countries outside of Europe?
HEGEWISCHWell, firstly -- in terms of basic infrastructure for families, right? In most countries, whether they are poorer or whether they are rich countries, you see women working and an increase in the number of women in the workforce and most countries have the basic infrastructure there to support working families, paid maternity leave, some form of childcare. That's really important and we don't have this in the U.S. The U.S. is one of only four countries in the world -- in the world, not just in the rich countries, without paid parental leave. So that's the first issue.
HEGEWISCHThe second one, part-time work is -- you know, if you go to developing countries, a lot of people work fewer hours than they would like to work. So this issue about -- if you, like, voluntarily reducing your hours because you have care giving responsibilities, it has a lot to do with having reached a certain level of income and having support elsewhere from the family so that you can do that. But you get similar discussions certainly among professionals in India and Singapore. In Singapore, they've introduced work life balance initiatives, partly because there you have to work very long hours. And there weren't very many supports so they had plunging birth rates and were very good concerned about this.
HEGEWISCHSo it's not just in Europe. In Australia, New Zealand, you have those issues. You find similar themes. Like, how do we rearrange work so that we can deal with all parts of our life, looking after family and relatives and working? And the U.S. has made a lot of progress in, you know, getting women into the work place and very often and into responsible positions. And women have progressed a lot, but somehow this important bit has been left off to make it possible, also, for families to exist happily.
NNAMDIHere now is Kate in Warrenton, Va. Kate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATEThank you. Well, I was just saying that part-time is such a great idea for both men and women, but it does pose a lot of problems in business. And that is to say that if a customer calls or a customer contacts someone in the business community, let's say at Wal-Mart or whatever company, and they pose their problems, a lot of times you -- if you have part-time people in there, they're only working three, four hours a day. Then they're gone and someone else has to take over.
KATEAnd a lot of times, as a customer, you end up explaining and re-explaining and re-explaining your problem to customer service people, let's say because you're never talking to the same person at the same time. And I think that's a big problem for part-time because you can never get anything solved -- as a customer, you can't get things solved.
NNAMDIBut, I guess, you're talking primarily about being part-time employees in retail businesses?
KATENot necessarily. I think there's also that problem certainly in the government. My husband works for the government and...
NNAMDIYeah, but I would suspect that that is not the fault of the part-time employee. That is the part of how the business has been organized.
KATEWell, I would agree with you there, but it is a real problem. And I noticed that the -- you know, my husband and I used to go abroad with the government quite often and, yes, a lot of times we couldn't talk to the same transportation officer because she's now out for a day and no one can take her place. So then, you have to wait three or four days before she comes home or maybe she's sick. What I'm saying is that there just doesn't...
NNAMDIBelieve you me, I have encountered that problem in both developed and developing countries with full-time employees in bureaucracies who are out on vacation and you have to wait a week because there's simply nobody there to replace them. But here is Ariane.
HEGEWISCHI do feel for you. I guess we've all experienced that. But, I think, what you can see is that there are some businesses who manage this well because they put their brains to it. They use technology and I guess they also want to make sure that their customers are served well. And there are studies which show that reasonably well designed reduced hours and other forms of flexibility lead to happy customers and happier employers. It does -- employees.
HEGEWISCHIt does take some setting up. You know, you can't just come in and say, okay now, everybody works 30 hours. You need to work through the problem areas. You need to use technology. But technology is wonderful in that and you need to allow for hand over time. But there are, you know, there are businesses there who are doing it. We're just not doing enough to sprat that kind of working.
NNAMDIHere is -- and thank you for your call, Kate. Here is Bill in Silver Spring, Md. Bill, your turn.
BILLYes, thank you for taking my call. I am a part-time airline employee here in the D.C. area at Dulles Airport. And my experience has been, because of the strength of the union, there are extremely good benefits for part-time employees. I am able to get free medical, free dental, paid vacation and vision for my family as a part-time employee, which is really helpful to me. But even so, there does seem to be a stigma with being part-time, in terms of obtaining on-the-job training and also the way that part-time employees are viewed. Sometimes you hear the remarks, oh, yeah, they're a part timer. So there is a stigma to it, but there is some benefit depending on the strength of the -- for the union. If you are a union...
NNAMDIYou seem to be suggesting, Bill, and Joan Williams can respond, that there is some career obstacle for those of you who are working part-time. Joan Williams?
WILLIAMSI actually have assembled a working group and we're looking at exactly the stigma that Bill is talking about. And there's studies that are beginning to emerge that say that, in a whole variety of ways, people who work part-time are stigmatized. And one of the reasons that they are stigmatized is because very often in the United States today, we expect what we have called -- we have christened the mandate of work devotion, that if you are really a serious and committed worker, work always comes first in your life.
WILLIAMSAnd part-timers are signaling, of course, this is a fiction in many of our lives. Work does not come first for most people who have a family. Family comes first. But part-timers are signaling that they have bought out of that norm of work devotion and that they do have other priorities in their lives. And so, again, Bill's comments are apt in that the flex -- what we call the flexibility stigma often is more acute for men than for women, but it exists for both.
NNAMDIHeather Boushey, you know of any studies or have you looked at that perception, the notion that if an employee is working part-time that that can be a career setback for that employee because the perception is that full-time workers are more interested in getting ahead in this particular career than our part-timers?
BOUSHEYWell, certainly. I have not, myself, done research on that, but certainly I've looked at some of the work on that. And you do see that there is, as Joan was saying, there's flexibility stigma and that it's harder for those folks to signal to their employer that they are committed. You know, a study that I was looking at this morning among lawyers was showing that the -- and, again, this is especially for men. But that there is this stigma for working part-time that plays out in terms of wages and that it's, again, much larger amongst similarly qualified individuals and similarly qualified kinds of firms for men than for women.
BOUSHEYBut, you know, on the other hand, very few men, actually, who are lawyers chooses part-time path. And my guess is it's probably because, you know, there's very few people that would work that hard to become a lawyer, get into a law firm and then not want those career opportunities that they were trying to lay out for themselves. But, of course, the reality is that all kinds of families need to be able to have some choice over hours and to be able to cut back when they need to and so that poses a lot of challenges for families. And, again, as Joan said, most of us want to put family first or at least close to the top of the list. And the lack of opportunities to move in and out of part-time work is really challenging for a lot of American families.
NNAMDIJoan, Heather mentioned law firms, of course, which are highly skilled and usually highly paid jobs, but they do typically allow part-time work.
BOUSHEYWell, one of the reasons they allow part-time work is because of the project for attorney retention. I and a group of attorneys got together 10 years ago at a time when part-time attorneys were taken off partnership track and paid less than a proportionate wage -- they were paid 60 percent of the wage for 80 percent of the hours. And we said, this is crazy and it's unfair and developed a new approach to part-time, which has now been widely adopted throughout the country.
BOUSHEYThat said, there still is a significant flexibility stigma in law firms. And, again, when men take workplace flexibility, even family leave, much less part-time, the individual man will often encounter a larger stigma. But very few men do it. So if you look across the population demographically, this flexibility stigma primarily and chiefly disadvantages women as a group.
NNAMDIMarcus and Bill, thank you for your call. Marcus in McLean, Va. wants to talk about flexibility stigma. Marcus, go ahead, please.
MARCUSJust real quick. I mean, especially here in the D.C. area, do you find that there's a flexibility stigma related to tele-working? It's an option, you know, that should be available with all the (word?) with traffic here. And, you know, especially the breakdown by the gender. Is there a reluctance, either one way or the other, male or female, to take an advantage of that? The pay is essentially going to be the same, right? You're just working from home. But is there a stigma related to someone who is, you know, working from home two days, man versus women? I can take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIThe out of sight, out of mind stigma, so to speak. Here is Joan Williams.
WILLIAMSWell, if there's a strong norm of full-time face time, then there will be a flexibility stigma associated with tele-work. If, and this is a radical idea, an employer actually looks at the output, then there should be no flexibility stigma.
NNAMDIThat is a radical idea. Ariane, a big issue, as you see it, is the fact that most part-time work is low skilled and low pay. What does that mean for people wanting to scale back their hours?
HEGEWISCHIt basically means that you're put into an either/or position. So you can see in the United States, compared to many other high-income countries, women with college degrees and who have kids, are more likely to be out of the workforce altogether than in a lot of other high-income countries because you can't get good part-time work. And so, you know, in other countries in the United Kingdom, they're really concerned about this. Part-time work is much higher, but you find that women scale down, work below their education, their experience to do part-time work.
HEGEWISCHThey take that part-time work because they want the hours. And they might be quite happy about it, but the economy loses the skills and the investment they have put in as a country to get the women educated and experienced and it's exacerbating skill shortages.
HEGEWISCHSo this point that Heather has made, that, you know, part-time work -- you can get part-time work, but it's concentrated typically in lower skill jobs without a lot of promotion potential. And, you know, it's like a part-time ghetto. And people might choose it, but everybody loses. They don't earn enough. They -- their skills don't maintain at the level they were -- of their experience and employers can't get skilled people to work.
NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try our best to get to your call after this short break. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, and raise a question or if you have a comment about part-time pay there. Also, you can send us a tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing part-time pay and the part-time pay gap in particular with Arlene Hegewisch. She is -- Ariane Hegewisch. She is the study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Heather Boushey is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress and Joan Williams is a distinguished professor of law and the founder and director of the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. She is also author most recently of "Reshaping the Work Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Back to the telephones. Here now is Dennis in Alexandria, Va. Hi, Dennis.
DENNISHi, Kojo. It's a first-time caller and I enjoy your show, especially that first hour about the dot names.
NNAMDIOh, thank you.
DENNISI work at a -- can you hear me okay?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
DENNISOkay. I work at one of the largest logistics companies, a lot of brown trucks running around town. (laugh) And they hire, and are hiring right now, part-timers for the Christmas rush. Now, it's an early morning or a late-evening shift, four hours, five hours if you're lucky, and it gets to longer hours towards Christmas. But if you can hang in there for a year, they have full benefits for full -- what they call full-time part-timers and that's dental, medical and vision like your caller from the airlines, Bill, said earlier. I highly recommend it. I was hired at the age of 58. I've never been fitter. It's hard work, but it's -- it's definitely available on the web and, well, like I say, it's a bunch of brown trucks do it.
NNAMDIWell, Dennis, I have -- I have friends who were in the same position as you are and did exactly the same thing. Are you looking forward to becoming full-time? And what if you decided to stay part-time? How would that affect you?
DENNISWell, I'm semi-retired so I would like to go full-time. But in order to do so, I would -- I end up doing a split shift, which isn't any big deal. I'm an early rise and late-to-bedder.
NNAMDIYeah. But what if you -- what if you didn't want...
DENNISThe full-time work that's at the office is the 6:00 -- 6:00 to 4:00 or 7:00 to 3:00 or whatever number that is.
NNAMDINo. I'm asking what if after -- what...
DENNISI could do that, but I enjoy the split shift -- I would enjoy the split shift because it's hard work and it keeps me fit.
NNAMDIWhat if after a year you chose not to work full time? How would that affect you? Would you still be able to keep your part-time job with all the benefits?
DENNISOr I'd go nuts. I really enjoy the work. You know, I'm a vet generation. I had a paper route when I was...
NNAMDINo. No. No. I'm not talking about you personally. I mean, if anybody -- I mean if--
DENNISJust -- I would...
NNAMDINo. No. No. Dennis...
DENNISI would -- I just enjoy the work.
NNAMDINo. Dennis, I mean, if anybody at UPS, because that's obviously who we're talking about here, if anybody at UPS decided that after a year they wanted to continue part-time and not work full-time, would that individual still be able to work and have all benefits, or are you required after a year to work full-time?
DENNISNo. No. No. By no means.
DENNISThe majority of the people that are part-time are part-time and those that hang for a year, that stay in there for a year, get those full benefits after a year and...
NNAMDIOh, you get the benefits after a year.
DENNISThat's one of the wonderful...
NNAMDIAllow me to have Joan Williams comment on that. You got the benefits after a year? What happens to your first year if you get sick, if your child gets sick during the course of the first year?
WILLIAMSWell, one of the real tragedies of the United States system of delivering health care through the employment link, is that if you lose your job -- and unfortunately, too many people have discovered this in the last two years, you get a double hit. You not only lose your income, you lose your health care and other benefits as well. And it's all the more troubling because families where one member is unemployed tend to encounter more problems than where you don't have unemployment in the family. So it's, frankly, just a crazy system.
NNAMDIWe got this posting on our Facebook page from Jennifer. "I ended up turning my part-time job into a business and contracting my services back to the employer because the taxes were killing me." Here's where I need you, Heather Boushey, because this gets too complicated for me. (laugh)
BOUSHEYIs that all she says?
NNAMDIThat's all she says.
BOUSHEYWell, you know, one of the things I was looking at earlier today is that, especially for women, if they are independent contractors, they tend to earn more, compared to women in similar kinds of occupations with similar skills. So parlaying a part-time job where you experience a big penalty, relative to someone in your field with your skills who has that full-time job, into independent contracting, where you may experience a bump up, may be a good idea. Now, that may not be true for all industries. It may not be true for the industry that Jennifer is in, but certainly that flexibility and the entrepreneurship may have its benefits in the labor market.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Again, Jennifer in Odenton, Md. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFERGood afternoon. I'm calling with more of an experiential contribution. I was a part-time teacher after being a full-time teacher for about five years. And that was actually the suggestion of my employer after I had a series of life changes, a deploying husband -- I inherited a commute after we moved. And I sensed that they didn't want to lose me and I didn't want to lose them. But I did get full benefits and I did get the schedule I needed and they went out of their way to work for me and also for a handful of male colleagues that also had extenuating circumstances. So I know that may defy some of the stigmas you're discussing, but I think it also probably corroborates with some -- with some of them. But it was, overall, a very positive experience.
NNAMDIAllow me to have one our panelists respond to that. We're not used to hearing this kind of good news. (laugh) Here's Heather.
BOUSHEYWell, you know, I think what that shows is a good management practice and we've talked about that a little bit already here on the show this morning. But, you know, clearly, Jennifer as you said, you valued your employer, they valued you and they found a way to make it work and it's a win-win solution. And we do see examples of this all across the country of places where firms have instituted workplace flexibility practices and made it work. And we found in research study after research study that it's good for the bottom line. It's good for employers and it works for workers and their families.
BOUSHEYSo I'm glad that you brought us this positive example today and it would be fantastic if we could hear more about those so that all of the other examples which, you know, tilt the average to the negative, if we could push that in the right direction.
NNAMDIWell, let me -- Jennifer, thank you for you call. Here's Joan Williams.
WILLIAMSYeah. In fact, in some cities, 20 percent of women partners now work part-time in law firms so there are some very, very positive examples. And what employers find is that when part-time is really working without a stigma, they decrease the attrition and turnover. And all the money that they save by decreasing attrition and turnover is far, far greater than the tiny amount more that a part-timer might cost them.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to Katie in Kensington, Md. Katie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATIEHi, thanks for taking my call. I work as an independent contractor, but I was calling to share my sister's story. She is a single parent. She has a graduate degree in social work and she has a job, but it -- and it's part-time, but the part-time hours are very artificial. They keep her at three or four hours less than she needs to qualify for benefits and it's been very frustrating for her because she finds that she often has to stay overtime. But those hours don't count and she finds herself without the pay or benefits that she feels she deserves.
NNAMDIIt is my under -- it is my understanding that part-time in law is 35 hours a week. So you're saying -- it's 40 hours a week. Could you please explain that, Joan Williams?
WILLIAMSYeah. Part -- a typical part-time schedule in a law firm is 40 hours a week.
WILLIAMSAnd what the caller is talking about is what we call schedule creep, where you have a -- formally have a part-time schedule, but your schedule creeps up towards full-time. And that's the kind of thing -- and I know Ariane is going to jump in. That leads a whole series of situations that are illegal in Europe. Is that correct Ariane?
HEGEWISCHThat's correct. But I was -- Katie's sister, it seems to -- in the U.S., there is such high incentives for employers really not to do the right thing and to go beyond the 35-hour threshold for health care or pension. For the FMLA, it's 30 hours. It varies a little bit and, you know, according to what benefit. But employers go for the short-term benefit of getting slightly lower wages and they lose out on the longer term benefit of higher commitment, lower turnover.
HEGEWISCHAnd really, the reason we have all those laws in Europe is that they realized you can get -- with best practice and telling people to be better and whatever, you can get so far, but there is a big barrier in companies. And let's face it, bad employers also survive. It's not just good employers. But because good employers will offer flexible working practices and give incentives to work out solutions survive and it helps families. I think we should really push this more.
NNAMDIHere's a more complicated problem. And Katie, thank you for your call. And you can tell us if or -- and/or how this is dealt with in Europe or in other parts of the world. This person signs, "caught between a rock and a hard place. I'm so happy to hear this discussion. I work for a big box retailer and they hire mostly part-time workers. They cut your hours if it's a slow day. So you may think you'll be 32 hours that week, but end up with just eight without notice. Full-time employees must be available to work 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day of the week. This puts anyone with kids or elderly parents in a very hard position." Any regulations for that in the European Union at all?
HEGEWISCHThey -- so they...
NNAMDIThe arbitrariness of it all.
HEGEWISCHFirstly, you tend to have in a lot of countries more unions and unions have helped to put more rationality into the system. So, yes, employers need people maybe 24/7, but there is some requirement of notice and some way to caution people. And in some countries...
NNAMDIAnd a minimum number of hours per week for which...
HEGEWISCHMinimum number of hours per week...
NNAMDI...people have to get paid generally.
WILLIAMSThis is very common in low wage jobs. It's something like over 90 percent of supervisors hiring for low wage jobs according to one study, said that they would always give the job to the person who was always available. Now, you have to be always available, but you may get very few hours or you may be scheduled for hours and you may show up and be sent home on the grounds that there's no people in the store that day.
WILLIAMSAnd one of the other things that the Center for Work Life Law is doing is we have a working group of people who were studying these practices in low wage employers and we are working on a set of best practices to help employers develop different ways of scheduling people that, in the slightly longer term, will ultimately save them money and serve their customers better.
NNAMDIAnd Heather Boushey, this is where you find most African-American and Latino women, working in a lot of those low-skilled, low-wage positions.
BOUSHEYCertainly. And you find those women of color also working in the kinds of services that families need where there's a ripple effect. So if you are a worker and you've got a child care need and you don't know your schedule until the week -- you know, you got your schedule on Friday for a week that's...
NNAMDIHow do you plan and budget?
BOUSHEYWell, how do you plan a budget and how does the child care center where you're taking your children plan and budget? So that child care center says, well, I need you to be either full-time or part-time. They need a set amount, but the family doesn't know what kind of hours they're going to get. So there's a ripple effect through small businesses, which are disproportionally owned by especially women of color, in child care and in home health aides and these kinds of service industries, service sector jobs that support people with work. And we don't think about that, just how this is detrimental just across the board.
NNAMDIHere's Cliff in Reston, Va. Cliff, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLIFFYes, thank you, Kojo. I really love your show. I would like to ask your guests -- I really appreciate the issue they're bringing up. I think it's an important one and solutions need to be found. I think a lot needs to be done. But in one situation where it's really challenging is the promotion path and supervisory path so that if you are to be treated as someone who's promotable, it means that you're someone who is a candidate for a supervisory position. And supervisory positions tend to be very hard to do part-time. That means you're a decision maker and you have to be available when decisions --- when issues come up. So there's -- so that you're there and can actually make a decision. I'll listen to it offline, thank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Joan Williams?
WILLIAMSWell, you know, I would say, as with most things, it depends. First of all, no supervisor is always there. Secondly, it's possible to supervise long distance. I run a small organization and we are -- we have employees 3,000 miles apart. And the third thing I would say is that -- and this is very common in the federal government, for example, where you're allowed to work part-time, but you're not allowed to enter management. If you have that kind of a rule, it's going to have affects on keeping women out. So there -- the fourth thing is that you can -- if somebody really needs to be there, then you can have a job share and have two people share that job.
NNAMDIJoan Williams is a distinguished professor of law and the founder and director of the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. She is also author most recently of "Reshaping the Work Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter." Heather Boushey is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress and Ariane Hegewisch is the study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Thank you all for joining us.
BOUSHEYThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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