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Equal pay for women

If a man started a new job today, by the end of the year he’d make as much on average as a woman who’d been on the job since January 1.

That’s why April 12 is dubbed Equal Pay Day, and a coalition of women’s groups is marking it with a rally downtown calling for an end to employment discrimination.

On average, controlling for education and experience, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.  Over a lifetime, that can add up.

“The Labor Department reports the pay gap for the average, full-time working woman means she gets $150 less in her weekly paycheck,” according to AFL-CIO NOW.  “If she works all year, that’s $8,000 less at the end of the year and about $380,000 over a lifetime.”

One thing that could help is a bill in Springfield – backed by groups including Women Employed, one of the sponsors of today’s rally — that would raise the state’s minimum wage by steps until it reaches the buying power it had in 1968.

The AFL-CIO cites a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that shows that women account for two-thirds of workers in the ten occupations with the lowest earnings; men account for two-thirds of those in the top ten occupations.

On top of that, within the top and bottom ten occupations, women are paid less than men.

Potlucks and protests: jobless workers organize

Unemployed workers can find support in their struggle to survive – and organization to promote action on jobs policies – at a potluck and workshop tomorrow night sponsored by Northside Action for Justice and the Unemployed Workers Council of Chicago Jobs With Justice.

And on Friday, the unemployed council will lead an emergency action in Chicago’s financial district, protesting Congress recessing without acting to save jobs.

Tomorrow’s potluck (food contributions optional) will feature the Worker Assistance Program of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which connects laid-off workers with local businesses.  It starts at 5:30 p.m. (Wednesday, August 4) at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr.

It’s the first of a series of potlucks and workshops planned for the Chicago area, said Susan Hurley of Chicago JWJ.  One goal is to make sure that jobs and unemployment get the attention they deserve in upcoming elections.

“This needs to be the number one priority of every elected official,” she said.  “We need a lot more action than we’ve been getting.”

On Friday (August 6, 11 a.m.) at LaSalle and Jackson, a broad coalition of labor, faith, peace, community and suburban groups will hear laid-off workers tell their stories,  followed by an “emergency action” at LaSalle Street banks.

An eight-month battle to win congressional approval for extended unemployment benefits – and comments by politicians suggesting the jobless are lazy – has angered many who have lost their jobs in the recession, the Washington Independent reports.

Now Congress is stalling passage of a $26 billion measure to provide aid to states that proponents say would prevent the loss of a half million or more jobs.

Among measures needing congressional attention is renewal of federal stimulus funds backing Put Illinois to Work, which employs 22,000 low-income parents, Hurley said.  Funding is now set to expire on October 1, she said.

Beyond short-term remedies, JWJ is pushing for a federal jobs policy, paid for by a tax on financial speculation.

“We’ve lost a lot of good manufacturing jobs, and they’re not coming back without direct intervention and investment, and that is exactly what the federal government should be doing,” Hurley said.

Currently nearly 15 million people are listed as officially unemployed; some 30 million have been laid off for some period of the recession.  Long-term unemployment rates are at levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The New York Times reports that nearly half of those currently unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, and 1.4 million have been out of work over 99 weeks, exhausting their benefits.

Rising need for food and shelter

The Chicago Community Trust has launched a $3 million initiative to help food pantries and homeless shelters respond to sharply rising need.

With its new Unity Challenge, the community foundation is providing a 2-to-1 match for donations up to $1 million to the grant fund, which will help nonprofits build capacity to meet basic human needs.

The Trust has also initiated a new monthly report, Metro Chicago Vital Signs, which tracks rising unemployment, hunger, homelessness and foreclosures in the metropolitan area.

According to the December report, from September 2007 to September 2008, the metropolitan area’s unemployment rate rose from 4.9 percent to 6.6 percent, and foreclosure filings doubled, reaching over 14,000 in the third quarter of this year. The number of individuals using food pantries has risen by a third, and calls for homelessness prevention are rising, reaching nearly 6,200 in October.

The food pantry at St. Columbanus Church, 331 E. 71st, where the Obama family volunteered on Thanksgiving, has seen 33 to 50 percent more people coming in for food, said director LaVerne Morris. “It’s just the economy,” she said. “People are losing their jobs. And if they do find another job, they’re not making the kind of money they were making.

“They’ve gone from making a decent salary to making minimum wage, and the rent hasn’t gone down, gas, lights, taxes, nothing else goes down. A lot of people are working every day and still can’t make ends meet — especially if they have children to feed.”

For the church’s food pantry, costs are going up too. The disposal company is charging for increased garbage pickup, the electric bill went up when an additional refrigerator was added, and just the increased expenditure for grocery bags adds up, Morris said.

Hundreds of nonprofits that are funded by the Trust “report a surge of need for food, housing, and employment — and a desperate need for resources to respond,” said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Trust. “Building on our 93-year legacy of philanthropy, we are taking a vigorous role in supporting the region’s most vulnerable citizens today, just as we did during the Great Depression.”

Donations to the Unity Challenge can be made by check or online. The first round of grants from the fund will be announced in February.

At St. Columbanus, the attention brought by the Obama family has also attracted badly-needed volunteers, Morris said. “Most of our volunteers are senior citizens, and they need help.” Indeed, the family’s Thanksgiving visit meant “four extra people helping, and we needed it.” She adds that the Greater Chicago Food Depository and neighborhood food pantries all need additional volunteers.

Youth unemployment at 60-year high

It’s not just Chicago — youth violence is on the upswing in cities across the country, according to the Alternative Schools Network.  And it’s not a coincidence that youth unemployment rates are at their highest in 60 years, according to new data.

With both major presidential candidates backing additional economic stimulus efforts, ASN and national allies are calling on them to support a $2 billion plan to create millions of summer and year-round youth jobs.

“Youth turn to gangs when they have no other options,” said Jack Wuest of ASN.  “With youth violence rising on a daily basis, we need a federal youth jobs initiative now more than ever.”

Federal funding for youth jobs was eliminated in 2000.In the following eight years, national summer teen employment fell nearly 30 percent, even while empoyment expanded across the economy.

New Bureau of Labor Statistics data confirms the projection of a study by Northwestern’s Center for Labor Market Studies, which ASN released in May (see Newstip), that youth employment could reach its lowest level in six decades this summer.

Green Collar Jobs

Chicago has a wealth of green building professionals — architects, engineers, designers — but there’s a gap when it comes to trades people trained to install and maintain green technologies, said Kindy Kruller of the Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Council.

Jobs in green technologies are good-paying jobs — and they can’t be outsourced, Kruller points out.

The gap is likely to grow with a number of government initiatives, she said.  Next year the city will require large developments to capture half of their stormwater; the state is requiring major investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency by Com Ed; and Congress is now considering a green jobs bill.

The Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Summit this Friday will bring together green professional, community organizations, workforce development groups, and others to coordinate efforts to develop a skilled workforce that can meet new “green market” demands and provide employment for low-skilled Chicago area residents

Speakers will include Nwamaka Agb of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, which recently launched a national “Green For All” drive to secure $1 billion in funding for green-collar jobs and lift 250,000 Americans out of poverty; Annette Williams, who directs the Bronx Environmental Stewards Training program for Sustainable South Bronx; and Jeremy Hays fromt he Apollo Alliance, a national coalition of labor, environmental, and business groups which addresses clean energy as a stimulus to economic rejuvenation.

Kruller and Dr. Victoria Cooper, who heads the new Building Energy Technology Certificate program at Wilbur Wright College, are working with a number of local groups including representatives of the city and the Chicago Federation of Labor on the Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative, to promote and coordinate training for jobs in environmental technology.

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