Wages, Jobs, Child Care, Wage Theft: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

Note: This is edited from the weekly email report from Senator Courtney. To see the full report please go to Senator Courtney’s website.

Note2: This post missed the schedule last week. To make sure that important info in here is disseminated it has been rescheduled. Tomorrow we will have the most recent Courtney Report

I was proud to vote this week to increase the wages of Iowa’s lowest-paid workers.

According to the Iowa Policy Project, 181,000 Iowans will benefit from an increase to the minimum wage. Here are some statistics on who will get a raise under the proposal approved by the Iowa Senate this week:

• 72 percent are over the age of 20.

• 59 percent are women.

• 20 percent have children.

• On average, they earn 44 percent of their family’s total income.

It’s been seven years since Iowans have seen an increase to the state’s minimum wage. No other state has lingered at $7.25 per hour longer than Iowa. Five out of six states surrounding Iowa have a higher minimum wage. By following suit, Iowa families will have bigger paychecks that will boost the economy when they’re spent at local businesses.

Senate File 269 increases the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8 as of July 1 of this year and to $8.75 by July 1, 2016. This modest proposal got bipartisan support in the Senate. The bill now goes to the House for its consideration.

The Legislature has worked hard to bolster efforts to position Iowa’s young people and the state’s economy for growth in high-skill jobs and industries.

This includes efforts to support what is known as STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These are fields that lead to high-skill, well-paying jobs and are vital to a thriving 21st century economy. STEM skills are the basis for innovative problem solving and discovery, which are best acquired through exploratory learning and active student engagement.

STEM is also an economic development tool. When we equip a workforce with high-quality education and skills, we set the stage to attract and expand businesses, which will in turn create more good jobs for Iowans.

Student interest and achievement in STEM has increased significantly in Iowa in recent years, thanks to a statewide STEM initiative that brings together educators, businesses, non-profits, state agencies and community leaders.

Since 2011, an estimated 250,000 school-age Iowans and tens of thousands of educators have benefited from Iowa’s STEM focus. Opportunities for hands-on learning have included community STEM festivals, classroom activities, professional development and more.

Annual evaluations show steady gains in:

• Post-secondary STEM majors at our community colleges, public universities and private colleges. There has been a 43 percent increase in degrees award from public universities in STEM fields.

• The number of teaching endorsements issued for math and science teachers. Iowa saw a 13 percent increase between 2012 and 2014 in teaching endorsements in science or math.

• Support for STEM education and jobs among Iowans. Three years ago, 26 percent of Iowans were familiar with the concept of STEM. Today, 41 percent of Iowans know about the importance of STEM education.

Learn more about STEM and the many programs it’s generating in Iowa at www.iowastem.gov.

Most young children in Iowa grow up in homes with working parents. In fact, Iowa has the highest percentage of households with children under age six who have all available parents in the labor force– 77 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

These statistics illustrate that Iowans work hard. With young kids in childcare an average of 36 hours per week, it also shows the importance of high-quality care.

The brain develops rapidly from birth to age five, building the foundation of cognitive and character skills. As many families know, good care that helps ensure a child’s success in school and life can come at a high cost.

The joint Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee recently heard about changes to federal law that will help to improve Iowa’s Child Care Assistance Program. Some of those changes include improvements in training for childcare providers and changes in program eligibility requirements that no longer penalize families when they receive modest pay increases.

The Senate will be proposing additional changes that will reward childcare providers for reaching certain quality benchmarks and changing income eligibility limits so that more working families are eligible for assistance.

These changes will ensure that more families with modest means can get high-quality care for their children. It also means that parents can focus on their jobs when they are at work, with the assurance that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment.

Learn more about childcare assistance in Iowa at http://dhs.iowa.gov/child-care.

This week, the Senate passed Senate File 270, a bill to ensure all Iowans get paid for their work.

Sadly, $600 million in wages are stolen from Iowa workers each year. Wage theft can occur in many forms. One example is an employer failing to pay a worker for the hours of work performed or an employer not giving tips to servers.

Iowa’s wage theft laws are so weak that they are impossible to enforce. The result? Iowa workers get ripped off by unscrupulous employers, and the majority of businesses that play by the rules are put at a disadvantage.

Most Iowans aren’t at risk of being cheated by their employer, but low-wage workers often are, and they’re the ones with the most to lose.

Just hiring more investigators won’t fix this wage theft problem. We need laws that make it clear you must pay your workers, and make it easier and safer for workers to stand up for their rights. Senate File 270 would make Iowa’s law more straightforward with these three changes:

1. Employers would be required to keep a written record of the terms of employment.

2. The defense that an employer “unintentionally” failed to pay employees would no longer be acceptable.

3. Employees filing wage theft claims and those who offer testimony on their behalf would be protected from retaliation under threat of penalty.

I urge the House to do right by hard-working Iowans by approving this bill.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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