Oxfam has put out their fifth annual report on the best and worst states to work in.  It includes the 50 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. They added a new feature this year to compare the rankings to additional measures of well-being, including poverty, food insecurity, infant mortality, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, median household income, and unionization rates. The hypothesis was that when companies and governments invest in workers, not only does the well-being for workers improve, but so does the economic outlook for the state. Supporting workers produces positive outcomes for everyone.  The interactive map for all workers is here: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/statemap2023

In the private sector, among the top 10% of earners, 96% have paid sick leave from their employer, while of the bottom 10% of earners, only 38% have paid sick leave. Those 38% with paid sick leave enjoy it largely due to policies at the state level. The exclusion of protections for domestic and farm workers largely continues.

Some states have moved forward like Minnesota, Illinois, and Maine that passed paid leave laws, Michigan that repealed its “right-to-work” laws, and Colorado that passed new legislation protecting collective bargaining for workers.

In 2022, the index added heat protections for outdoor workers. California, Oregon, and Washington have heat standards, something that needs to become universal given climate change.  The lowest ranking states remain in the South, the so called “bible belt” where people care so much about families and children.

At the federal level two new laws passed i.e. the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act (PWFA) that guarantees workers the right to reasonable accommodations from any condition stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions, and protects workers from discrimination or retaliation in the workplace as a result of their condition. This law applies to all employees working for an employer with at least 15 employees, regardless of whether they are full time, part time, temporary, or seasonal workers.

The second law is the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (the PUMP Act), ensuring all workers in the U.S. (with the exception of airline workers) are provided accommodations and rest while pregnant, and private places (not bathrooms) to express breastmilk for up to a year.

But the “hot labor summer” needs to keep going and get hotter as workers continue to be attacked. The attacks on reproductive health and the LGBT community are coming from the same states that attack workers’ rights.

The Oxfam ranking system on wages, worker protections, and right to organize, is meant to inspire a race to the top for all states.  No state has a perfect score.  The top state overall is California and the bottom North Carolina. Arizona is 18th overall with a score of 58.05; our score on wages is 72.22; our score on worker protection is 40.48; our score on right to organize is 80.00. Governor Hobbs just fulfilled one campaign pledge and ordered that state workers get two weeks of paid maternity leave – not much but better than nothing.

The bad news is weakening of the protections for children working. Four states passed such measures (AR, IA, NH, NJ) Many undocumented children work in dangerous meatpacking plants or food sanitation companies who, along with restaurants, have pushed for these bills.  We have already seen at least two deaths of children working in factories and lumber mills. These legislators are so concerned about parental consent in school, but for work, in Arkansas they removed the requirement of parental consent to work when under 18.

In July 2023 Oxfam released a new research product, the U.S. Care Policy Scorecard, that provides an overview of federal policies pertaining to unpaid and underpaid care work (UUCW). Created in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF), and the iLab at the University of Notre Dame, this work analyzed thirty indicators connected with paid and unpaid care at the federal level. The U.S. Care Policy Scorecard demonstrates how the U.S. has a failing grade when it comes to federal policies supporting caregivers and care workers, overwhelmingly women and disproportionately women of color and immigrants. The lack of these crucial policies reflects the long sexist and racist history of policymaking in the U.S., where specific communities were targeted through their exclusion. As our population ages, the caregiving economy becomes even more vital.

The report also lists the best states for working women. Here Arizona comes in 26th.  The usual suspects are at the top (OR, CA, NY, IL, WA, CT, MA, NJ, NV, MN) and the South plus Wyoming and Utah are at the bottom. Legal Momentum, the country’s first and oldest women’s legal defense fund, has created a useful guideline specific to women in the workplace, the Working Woman’s Bill of Rights, that outlines the different legal protections most needed to support women at work. The interactive map for working women is here: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/statewomenmap2023

The federal minimum wage still has not moved and even the states with the highest minimum wage ($17.00/hour) is not enough to support a family.  Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, and several of those states—including states like Florida and Arizona—have a higher minimum wage as a result of a ballot initiative. No state minimum wage reaches even half the cost of living for a family of four with one wage earner.

No state’s minimum wage covers even half the cost of living for a family. The states that come closest are the District of Columbia, where the nation’s highest minimum wage of $17 covers 38.7% of a family’s expenses; Washington, where the minimum wage  of $15.74 covers 37.6%; and Connecticut, where the minimum wage of $15.74 covers 37.4%. The myth of a middle class with a working father and stay-at-home mother is just that – a myth. Such an economic situation existed only from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Before and since, many family members from children to grandmothers, contributed to the family coffers, as we did in our family. The Boomers were fortunate to have grown up in fifty years of the greatest economic expansion ever seen.  Many of us helped our parents as they aged and now help our children as they navigate a much poorer economy.  By refusing to support workers and refusing to raise the minimum wage to support a family, workers are locked into poverty. They cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps because the corporations stole the boots.

The index also looks at the subminimum tipped wage issue which is still stuck at $2.13 since 1991.  Seven states have eliminated the subminimum tipped wage (AK, CA, MN, MT, NV, OR, WA).   The 5.5 million tipped wage workers in the U.S. are stuck at higher levels of poverty than others.

While petitions to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) went up 50% in 2022 and public approval of unions is the highest it has been since the mid-1960s, unions still only represent 10% of workers, the lowest ever rate. Arizona’s recent number was 5.2%. Yet having a union makes a significant difference with not only significantly better pay but also safer workplaces, reduced wage gaps by sex and race, and more benefits.

Oxfam this year correlated how a state’s score related to other measures of wellness and economic strength. For every 10 points a state’s score increased, there was a correlation with:

  • $3,132 increase in median household income;
  • 5% decrease in households in poverty (robust to multiple specifications);
  • $5,150 increase in GDP per capita;
  • 5% decrease in food scarcity (robust to multiple specifications);
  • 6% increase in unionization rates (robust to multiple specifications);
  • 336 reduction of infant deaths per 1,000 births (robust to multiple specifications).

The report ends with the mandatory policy recommendations – many of them the same things we hear year after year.  Raise the minimum wage and index wages to COLA; eliminate subminimum wages for tipped and all workers; invest in the care economy for both children and elderly; include coverage for domestic and farm workers; mandate paid leave, equal pay, and heat protection; pass the PRO Act to facilitate organizing; and repeal “right-to-work” laws that harm workers.

In Arizona, these bills have been introduced in the state legislature over and over for years.  They never even receive a hearing.  We must change the make-up of the Senate and House by one seat each in order to pass worker friendly laws that will elevate not only workers but the entire economy of Arizona and our future.