The GOP’s New Outreach to Women: It’s a Trap

Speaker of the House John Boehner has promised to pass Martha Roby’s Working Families Flexibility Act. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.) House Republicans are launching their first concerted effort to win back female voters on Tuesday with the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, a bill that’s being packaged as a lifeline to working moms across the country. Unfortunately, the legislation is a particularly cruel hoax—a slick attempt to give employers more power, and hourly workers much less. At first blush, the idea sounds good. The bill would allow hourly workers to convert overtime pay into time off: in other words, instead of getting paid for extra hours, they could stockpile additional vacation time. The pitch here is that working parents could have more flexibility in their schedule and an enhanced ability to balance work and family. “This week, we’ll pass [Representative] Martha Roby’s bill to help working moms and dads better balance their lives between work and their responsibilities as parents,” House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday. The GOP is specifically invested in convincing women this bill is for them. The GOP spent $20,000 last week on a digital ad campaign focusing on so-called “mommy blogs,” like and, and geo-targeting Democrats in swing districts. “Will Rep. Collin Peterson stand up for working moms?” one iteration of the ad asked. A fawning National Review profile of Roby, the bill’s sponsor, explains how she wasn’t sure she could handle a run for Congress in 2009 because of concerns about taking care of her children while running for a House seat and potentially becoming a member of Congress—and how those concerns have now inspired her to push this important legislation. But it’s not too hard to see how pernicious this legislation truly is. “Flexibility” is a word that should make hourly workers check Continue Reading

What’s left out of Ivanka’s view of working mothers: A world of diverse realities

My mother always had wonderful stories. There were stories about growing up in Virginia and later moving to Washington D.C., living for a time at the local YWCA, where young African American women could find safe, reputable housing in the days of segregation. There were the stories about her first jobs working in administrative and clerical positions at different federal agencies, where she wore a hat and gloves to work each day and eventually met and married my dad. Still other stories were about navigating work and family, such as how she had to leave her job several months before I was born because, in those days, pregnant women were supposed to stop working long before giving birth. To me, my mom’s stories often seemed like a walk through a living history book. To her, they were just life. My mom, like the other women in her family and my dad’s family, was part of the backbone at home, at work and in society. These women were unsung heroines always expected to be present: to keep track of schedules, to be available for school pickups, to schedule doctors’ appointments, to care for sick family members but never get sick themselves, and to provide comfort when there were disappointments. Outside of the home, they always worked. They were administrative assistants and secretaries, teachers and administrators, home care workers and nurses, and others whom society often depended on for support without fanfare or much recognition. Far from the loud, angry or wise-cracking stereotypes, they exuded the quiet dignity, resilience, strength and grace of strong African American women. And, like many other women across different races and ethnicities, they often had to push against attitudes, biases and conventional wisdom that limited their opportunities. I think about my mom’s stories — and my mom, who passed away in 2011 — every day, but particularly on Mother’s Day. She remains my daily Continue Reading

House Republicans pass bill that would let employers swap out overtime pay for paid time off

Next on the Republican agenda: passing a new bill that supporters say will give working families great job flexibility, while detractors say it’s a smokescreen to undercut overtime pay. The House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act this week — touting it as a boon for employees who might want to take paid time off instead of getting paid for extra work. The bill passed in the House mostly along party lines. All House Democrats and six Republicans voted against it. If the Working Families Flexibility Act makes it through the Senate and gets signed into law, it would let employers give workers paid time off in lieu of time-and-a-half for working beyond a 40-hour week. The White House put out a statement of support for the measure, touting it as a bill that would give private sector workers the same choices as those in the public sector. “(The bill) would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow private-sector employers to give their employees the choice to receive paid time off instead of cash payments for each hour of time for which overtime compensation would otherwise be required,” the White House statement said. “(The bill) would help American workers balance the competing demands of family and work by giving the flexibility to earn paid time off — time they can later use for any reason,” the White House added. The bill’s wording does prevent employers from forcing workers to take comp time instead of paid overtime — but it also allows an employer to rescind the comp time offer at will, critics point out. Under the measure passed by the House of Representatives, employers can decide at will to take back banked time from an employee and pay them overtime instead — and the employer will have up to 30 days to cut the check, critics said. It’s also up to the bosses when the Continue Reading

Obama pushes for family-friendly work policies at ‘White House Summit on Working Families’

President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and offer paid leave for mothers of newborns. “Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth — now that’s a pretty low bar,” Obama said at the White House Summit on Working Families. “That, we should be able to take care of.” The president is talking about paid maternity in the midst of a midterm election campaign focused on women voters, raising questions about how he would fund such a system. “If France can figure this out, we can figure this out,” Obama said. While some companies offer paid family leave to attract workers, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act only requires that employers provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. Obama praised California, Rhode Island and New Jersey for creating a state benefit. But he has not endorsed legislation that would create a similar national system funded by a payroll tax, and he pledged in his 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced legislation that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave through a fund in the Social Security Administration, paid for by contributions from employees and employers of 0.2 percent of wages. She said she has personally encouraged the president to back it and hopes he will, despite his tax pledge. “We’re talking about 2 cents of every $10,” she said in an interview at the summit. She said without such a fund, eight out of 10 workers can’t take advantage of their right for family leave because they can’t afford it. When Obama came to the White House, he instituted six weeks of paid leave for his workers when they have a child, get sick or injured or need to care for an ailing family member, using his authority to set his Continue Reading

Talent 101: 5 class acts pursue ‘Fame’ at performing arts schools

When "Fame" first hit the big screen in 1980, the High School of Performing Arts — the basis of the film — was one of the few teen talent training grounds in the country. Now it’s in good company. Chicago’s first public performing arts school recently opened. In Los Angeles, two new performing arts schools are now in session. In NYC alone, 21 new public performing arts schools have opened their doors since 2002. While most teenagers are focused on parties and cheerleading — these five students are juggling AP biology with acting, math with musical theater, prom night with pirouettes.  Devin Morgan, AGE: 15, junior, SCHOOL: School of the Future, Ballet Tech, MAJOR: Dance Growing up in New York City, Devin Morgan played soccer, basketball, football and baseball. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine adding ballet to the list. One day, when he was in middle school at PS 261 in Brooklyn, Morgan unwittingly tried out for Ballet Tech, a public ballet school for New York City youth in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. “The principal told us all to come down to the auditorium and no one had any idea what was going on,” said Morgan. “Then these women came out and asked us to do jumps and put our arms in certain positions.” Out of 300 students, Morgan and a classmate were chosen to participate in Ballet Tech’s intensive training program. He attends academic classes in the morning at the School of the Future and then dances in the afternoon for Ballet Tech. “I had no past connection to ballet until then, but now I like dancing a lot,” Morgan says. “When you watch ballet, it looks so easy. Physically, ballet requires so much hard work. The positions you have to hold and the constant jumps and the lifting is very hard.” Still, the young dancer initially felt embarrassed about his new gig, especially the outfit. “At first, there was skepticism from my Continue Reading

The nanny state: How the feds are taxing the limits of working moms

When Nancy Killefer withdrew her candidacy as Obama's chief performance office Tuesday, many working parents in New York City, thought: "There but for the grace of God." Killefer's downfall was her failure to pay employment taxes on household help - a failure of which, according to estimates, between 80% and 95% of "ordinary" Americans are guilty. That figure seems pretty accurate. My own informal poll of dual-income families around the city shows that few pay their nanny, baby-sitter, housekeeper or home-health aide on the books. Bearing this out, a 2008 survey by the community group Park Slope Parents in Brooklyn found that less than 20% of respondents did so. Does that make them bad people? No, it makes them just like everyone else who has to get out the door each day to earn a living. Tell that to the IRS, though. From the feds' point of view, parents have to act as mini-corporations, paying toward their nannies' Social Security, health and unemployment benefits. That's all very well to ask for, but what about a helping hand paying for it? The government's $5,000 annual tax credit for eligible child or dependent care, available through a flexible spending account, is laughably low. It needs to be several times that amount to cover the extra financial burden. I doubt you'll see Congress passing a bailout for parents anytime soon, though. "It would certainly be an incentive to do things officially if all child-care costs were deductible," says Candace, 30, a new mom from the upper West Side. "Without a decent deduction, we couldn't afford the increase in the nanny's wages. "It wouldn't be worth my while to go to work." Another overlooked issue is that many nannies don't want to be paid on the books. "My baby-sitter insists on being paid her $500 a week in cash because it suits her Medicaid status," says a 38-year-old mom of two from Manhattan. "If she declared her income, she wouldn't be eligible and would struggle to pay health Continue Reading

Mom-preneurs: Four NYC women juggle family and careers

When the going gets tough, moms get going. Far from assuming the fetal position and allowing the economic crisis to crush them, some local mothers with bright entrepreneurial spirits are determined to seize opportunities and provide for their families. Four in particular have managed to increase their earning potential without sacrificing any precious time with their kids. How do they do it? Determination, the Internet and a little less sleep, for starters. Kim Au AGE: In her 40s; lives in midtown JOB: Chaperone for her 10-year-old son, Lee, a child model TIME ON THE JOB: Ever since her oldest son, Isaac, now a 29-year-old Broadway actor, started singing and dancing as a tot in the family's native Hawaii. How did Lee get into modeling? He followed in the footsteps of Isaac and his sisters, Tatiana, 19, and Nataysha, 18, who have always done musical theater, acting, TV and modeling. He did a catalogue shoot in Oahu when he was just 8 months old and ended up on the cover. He was such a cute baby and loves the camera. He impersonates and he's funny. Why the move to New York City? Two years ago, we were visiting Isaac and saw that the agency Willy Kids had an open casting. Lee met the president, Marlene Wallach, and she signed him up. His Polynesian heritage means he has a very unique look. What type of modeling does Lee do? A lot of print work for Gap, Benetton and the Children's Place and he's on three TV commercials, for Macy's, Tylenol and Kellogg's. Shoots can last from one hour to eight hours. He earns anything from $150 an hour for print to thousands for a national commercial which brings in royalties. How does he attend so-called "go sees" and jobs as well as school? We homeschool Lee via a DVD-based curriculum. He's a very bright boy in the fourth grade who reads at an eighth-grade level. We bring along my laptop, and he does schoolwork in between his modeling work and after he's done. The flexibility helps a Continue Reading

Sister act: Solange Knowles, Beyonce’s younger sibling, comes into her own

Solange Knowles is ready for her closeup. Just don't ask her about her famous big sis, Beyonce. "Our styles are so different," Solange said when asked if she ever gets tips from her better-known family member. "I think all sisters share secrets and advice, but we try to keep that stuff in the house." It may come as news to many that Beyonce, who seemingly can't dodge the public eye - whether she's having a clandestine wedding to hip-hop luminary Jay-Z, lighting up a large screen somewhere, or even tripping down the stairs at a concert - actually has a sister. But she does. A stunningly beautiful (it runs in the family), soft-spoken sister, with a shy smile and a laid-back charm that seems to come naturally in spite - or maybe because of - her shockingly young age. While Beyonce has been making headlines, her sister, now almost 22, may be poised to take flight, something she's clearly hoping for with the release of her new album at the end of August. Solange (she uses only her first name professionally) released a disc in 2003, at the tender age of 17, to little fanfare. During the years that followed, she's also been married and divorced to the father of her three-and-a-half year old son. If that seems like a lot of ups and downs to have crammed into a young life, you would never know it from the single mom's girlish enthusiasm. At a dinner party intended to bolster her connections in the fashion world, she seemed genuinely happy to be out making the rounds, looking fabulous in a black romper, a glass of champagne laced with Hennessy (which sponsored the party) in her black-and-white manicured hand. She described the musical style of the new disc as a hybrid that's heavily inspired by the Supremes, the Ronettes, and the "Wall of Sound," while also borrowing elements from electronic music she discovered on a recent trip to Europe. And her producer clearly thinks she has it nailed - they recorded the first single, "I Decided," in one take, Continue Reading

Pregnant and want to go back to work after the birth?

Oh, the guilt … Jessica Stern felt it strongly six weeks after the birth of her daughter, just when she was scheduled to return to work as a senior vice president at an advertising agency. "I also felt guilty about actually enjoying my work and some time spent away from my child," says Stern, whose daughter is now 7 months old. Her transition back to work was made more difficult by the natural hormonal changes that occur after childbirth. Like Stern, many mothers who return to work face a myriad of challenges, some of which they never expected. Nevertheless, experts say that transition need not be very difficult if new moms take time to do a little emotional and practical advance preparation. Parenting coach Amber Rosenberg admits that gearing up for such a big life change always is at least a little difficult because a new mother never truly knows how she will respond to the child until after their son or daughter is born. Some women swear they'll return to their careers as soon as possible but melt as soon as they embrace their newborn for the first time. Others, who have spent weeks or months fantasizing about motherhood and the idea of staying with a baby all day, may find that they need a break to get through the long days of caring for an infant. "You need to give yourself time to figure things out," Rosenberg says. One of your first priorities when doing that: finding out exactly what your company's policies are regarding maternity leave, how they apply to you directly, and what the Family and Medical Leave Act says. Rosenberg says that if it is at all possible you should transition back to work slowly. If an employer provides three months of paid leave, for example, consider taking a six-week maternity leave and then returning for 1.5 months on a part-time basis. And if you are having trouble, don't be afraid to discuss your return-to-work strategy with a professional who can help you come up with a plan that suits you, your Continue Reading

We all have to act to protect Iowa’s children

When the horrors of child maltreatment, torture, sex trafficking or starvation strike our community we tend to quickly look for someone to blame. The recent deaths of Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray underscore the gaps in protective factors for Iowa kids, and calls each of us to act.We all have a role to play in the development of our children, and this includes becoming involved in situations where a child’s wellbeing is or can be jeopardized. Our responsibility cannot be outsourced to an agency, and we must hold those that victimize our children accountable.In Iowa, 56 percent of adults report experiencing some type of abuse or household dysfunction growing up, according to 2016 Adverse Childhood Experiences Study data. Trauma during childhood has lifelong impact, and breaking the intergenerational cycle of abuse requires prioritizing prevention in our policies and in our funding — at the state, federal, and local level. Public-private partnerships have never been more necessary in our state.Certainly the loss of these two young ladies and the trauma their siblings endured are a call to examine policies on homeschooling and foster and adoptive family oversight. READER'S WATCHDOG: 'Heartbroken' Iowa agency asks experts how to prevent child deaths READER'S WATCHDOG: 20 Iowa child deaths in 2016 that could have been prevented Sen. Chuck Grassley and other Iowa congressional leaders, are champions of the Family First Prevention Services Act that improves flexibility in federal child welfare funds (Title IV-E) to Iowa’s Department of Human Services, providing more supports for children before entering foster care and updating requirements of foster care oversight and accountability. More access to prevention services reduces the number of children placed in foster care unnecessarily.Iowa is one of 11 states that does not require families to register homeschool students with their local school district and is one of 24 states Continue Reading