High Five

05.13.14

New York City Leads the American Workforce Out of the Mad Men Era

Carmel Martin argues the Big Apple should capitalize on its workplace success and lead the country into the 21st century.

New York City, the city is not just world renowned for its bagels and baseball team, but also for being an international business capital and the center of the financial universe. As a country, we’re used to keeping an eye on New York to anticipate the next cultural trend or the latest innovation.

So it’s only natural that New York should seize the opportunity to lead American workplaces out of the Mad Men era and into the 21st century.

New York’s workforce, like the country’s, has shifted dramatically over the last few decades. Yet our workplace policies have not kept pace. While it used to be rare for mothers to work outside the home, today two-thirds of mothers are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. In New York state, women are the primary or co-breadwinner for 56% households and single mothers lead nearly nearly 300,000 families in New York City alone.

These demographic changes—like many innovations—have had a positive impact on our businesses, on the economic well-being of our families, and our economy overall. If it weren’t for the dramatic rise in women’s work hours, for example, middle-class households would have significantly lower earnings than they do today. Over the last three decades, women are responsible for adding 1.7 trillion to America’s gross domestic product.

But as women have moved to work outside the home and the American family structure has shifted, we have failed to restructure our employment policies to match that 21st century reality. Women still earn less than men, and while the wage gap is less dramatic in New York then it is in other states, women are still being shortchanged by more than $154 in wages each week. This wage gap exists, in part, because employers continue to penalize women for being caregivers or because they view their work as less valuable.

While 28% of families are headed by a single parent, only 11% of workers of workers have access to paid family leave. That means tens of millions of workers are forced to choose between being a good employee and being a good parent or caregiver.

Fortunately, we’re not in the dark about the best way to support working families. There are concrete steps we can take to help workers succeed – steps that acknowledge the reality of today’s workplace and family structure. To start, we should implement a paid family and medical leave policy that ensures no worker has to take leave when they fear losing wages while they care for a sick parent or face a long-term illness themselves. And we should guarantee new parents paid leave when they welcome a newborn or adopt a child, so no parent has to give up a paycheck when they grow their family.

We can also support working families by raising the minimum wage. Since more than two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, raising the minimum wage would help close the wage gap. It would also lift millions of American families—including many single mothers and their children—out of poverty and improve our economy overall. In New York City, not only would raising the minimum wage have a positive economic impact on families, but increasing wages for women in the most vulnerable neighborhoods by just $2.00 an hour would infuse $1.5 billion back into the local economy. Because women from all walks of life, from diverse backgrounds, and at every economic level are facing challenges like the wage gap and a lack of access to paid family leave implementing policies like these will respond to the every day needs of real women.

To be sure, New York is already doing its part to lead the way on policies that help working families succeed. Mayor de Blasio recently signed paid sick leave legislation into law, giving thousands of New Yorkers access to sick days for the first time. De Blasio’s efforts to get more 3 and 4-year olds enrolled in preschool will also go a long way towards supporting the city’s working families, and help those children succeed when they get to kindergarten and beyond.

But more can be done—in New York and across the nation—to support women and working families. That’s why President Barack Obama, in partnership with the Center for American Progress and the U.S. Department of Labor, is hosting the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC on June 23. In the lead-up to the summit, we are hosting regional events, including one today in New York City, to convene business leaders, policy makers, and experts on the key issues facing workers and families to discuss how to build a 21st century workplace.

New Yorkers are accustomed to change and used to a fast pace. So there’s no better place to kick off a conversation about pushing our workplaces out of the Mad Men era and into the 21st century than New York City.

Carmel Martin is the Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress.