September 17, 1996 in Nation/World

America: Who Stole The Dream? Women Bear Brunt Of U.S. Policies No Group Has Fared Worse Than Women In This New, Bottom-Line Society

Donald L. Barlett And James B. Steele Philadelphia Inquirer
 

Third in a series

Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, can’t understand why people are worried about their jobs.

“Today, a truly puzzling phenomenon confronts the American economy,” he told an economic conference in June 1996. “I refer to the pervasiveness of job insecurity in the context of an economic recovery that has been running for more than five years …

“This sense of job insecurity is so deep that many workers fear their ability to make ends meet in the future. Many appear truly concerned about a prospective decline in their standard of living.”

And jobs were plentiful. As Greenspan had put it in January 1995, “cumulatively, payrolls have now increased roughly six million over the last couple of years.”

Betty Lizana knows a little bit about those jobs.

She’s held two of them.

Both paid less than the job she lost.

For 16 years, Lizana was the payroll officer at an assembly plant in Biloxi, Miss., that made electrical wiring components for vehicles and household appliances.

In May 1992, the plant’s owner, Fleck Inc., closed the Biloxi facility, packed up the machinery and shipped it to a plant in Juarez, Mexico, where labor is cheaper. Lizana was dismissed, along with about 50 others.

Betty Lizana’s odyssey since then says much about how working Americans - especially women - are faring in today’s job market. And it helps explain the anxiety about jobs that Greenspan and others in Washington can’t quite grasp.

The working lives of millions of Americans have been upended by changes brought about by Washington policies. And the burden has fallen most heavily on women.

At a time when unprecedented numbers of women are diving into the work force - often because their households desperately need the income - the tide is going out. High-paying jobs, never common for women, are becoming even scarcer.

In July 1993, about a year after she was let go by Fleck - long after her unemployment benefits had run out - Betty Lizana found another job. She became a cashier on the Biloxi Belle, one of the floating casinos lining the Gulf Coast near Biloxi.

But shortly after she started, the Biloxi Belle ran into trouble. The casino’s owners filed for bankruptcy court protection. Then, in January 1994, court officers were sent to close down the ship and secure its assets.

This time, it took a year and a half to find another job. The Lizana family got by on her unemployment compensation and on her husband’s small disability pension. Lizana’s new job was with a contractor for an employer that has been trimming its payroll for five years, dismissing more than 260,000 workers: the U.S. government.

In September 1995, she began managing the food-service inventory at Keesler Air Force Base, the area’s largest employer. But it’s only part time.

In four years, Betty Lizana, 52, went from full-time payroll supervisor in an assembly plant at $9 an hour to full-time casino cashier at $5 an hour to part-time food-service worker at $7.97 an hour - whenever she can get work.

Welcome to the jobs of the 21st century.

In the last 30 years, Washington trade policies have swept manufacturing jobs away, to low-wage countries. In one industry that was among America’s largest - apparel - it was primarily women who staffed the factories. Nearly half of those jobs are gone. Except for those in the professional class, most women now must resort to service jobs: the clerking, cleaning, table-waiting and cashiering jobs that provide little money, few or no benefits, and part time or irregular hours.

This is true for veteran workers like Betty Lizana just as it is for women seeking their first job.

And for women, the harm is all the greater because, as a group, they were already earning less than men.

In 1995, the median weekly earnings of women were 75 percent of men’s wages. This disparity persists across nearly every occupation.

There are, of course, some jobs in which men and women are paid the same: those that pay minimum wage or a little more. Not surprisingly, women hold more of these jobs.

In 1995, a total of 6.4 million people aged 25 and older earned between $4.25 - the minimum wage - and $5.99 an hour. Of that number, 4.3 million - or 67 percent - were women.

These numbers can be expected to grow substantially, since new welfare rules require recipients - most of whom are women - to work.

While men have always earned more than women, this stubborn gap is taking on much more urgency, because women are making up an increasingly greater share of the work force.

In fact, sometime early next century, women - for the first time - will outnumber men in the U.S. workplace.

One reason: more and more women are solely responsible for a household. While single mothers and other heads of households are the fastest growing group, their “incomes” aren’t growing at all.

Their average adjusted gross income went from $6,100 in 1970 to $19,200 in 1993 - a 215 percent increase, lagging behind the inflation rate of 272 percent for the period. So single mothers today are worse off than the single mothers of 1970.

The inevitable result of all these factors: Nearly twice as many adult women as men are below the poverty level. In all, 14.1 million women over 18 were classified as living in poverty in 1994, compared with 8.6 million men.

What this means, of course, is that an ever-increasing number of American children are growing up in poverty. In 1994, more than 15 million children lived below the poverty line. That was up from 13 million a decade before.

Lest you think things are going to get better for women, take a careful look at the federal government’s job projections for 1996 to 2005.

These are the occupations that the Department of Labor says will show the greatest growth and therefore offer the greatest opportunities.

Just what might these employment opportunities be in an era that Washington policymakers say, over and over, depends on our ability to create high-tech jobs?

The No. 1 occupation, with a projected increase of 562,000 jobs: cashiers. In 1995, there were 891,000 women cashiers in retail establishments. They filled 77 percent of such jobs. Their median weekly wage - meaning half earned more, half earned less - was $233, or $12,116 a year. Men earned $13,312, or 10 percent more.

No. 2: janitors and cleaners. Expected gain, 559,000 jobs. In 1995, there were 345,000 women employed as janitors and cleaners - 26 percent of the jobs. Their median weekly wage: $259, or $13,468 a year. Men made $15,964 - 19 percent more.

No. 3: retail sales clerks. Projected increase, 532,000 jobs. In 1995, nearly 1.8 million women were sales clerks. They filled 56 percent of the jobs. Median weekly wage: $253, or $13,156 a year. Men earned $18,980 - or 44 percent more.

No. 4: waiters and waitresses. Expected increase, 479,000 jobs. In 1995, there were 418,000 women working as food-servers. They filled 71 percent of those jobs. Their median weekly pay: $258, or $13,416 a year. Men earned $16,328 - or 22 percent more.

No. 5: registered nurses. Projected increase, 473,000 jobs. In 1995, a total of 1.3 million women worked as registered nurses. They filled 91 percent of the jobs. Median weekly pay: $693, or $36,036 a year. Men earned $37,180 - or 3 percent more.

The No. 6 occupation, with a projected increase of 466,000 jobs, is general managers and top executives.

No. 7 is systems analysts, expected to grow by 445,000 jobs. Both are among the higher-paying occupations. Both are dominated by men.

No. 8: home-health aides. Projected to generate 428,000 new jobs. In 1995, there were 238,000 health aides; 179,000, or 75 percent, were women. Their median weekly pay was $285, or $14,820 a year. Men earned $17,940, or 21 percent more.

No. 9: guards, another mal-edominated, low-paying field. Projected growth rate, 415,000 jobs.

No. 10: nursing aides, orderlies and attendants. Projected jobs, 387,000. A total of 1.2 million people worked in this field in 1995; 1.1 million of them were women. Their median weekly pay was $275, or $14,300 a year. Men earned $17,212 - or 20 percent more.

To summarize:

Six of the 10 occupations that the U.S. government says will provide the largest number of jobs for America’s high-tech future are in fields paying women annual wages that would qualify a family of four for the earned-income tax credit. Meaning they are working poor.

Not all women are losing ground in the apparel industry. Some are making quite a nice living.

Like Linda J. Wachner. She’s the 50-year-old chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Warnaco Group Inc., and chairman and CEO of Authentic Fitness Corp.

The New York-based Warnaco Group designs, manufactures and markets women’s intimate apparel, including such brand names as Warner’s, Olga, Valentino Intimo, Calvin Klein. By its own reckoning, the company accounts for 30 percent of all women’s bra sales in the United States. It also sells a range of menswear, including shirts by Hathaway and Chaps by Ralph Lauren.

Authentic Fitness, of Commerce, Calif., designs, manufactures and sells swimwear and activewear under the Speedo, Catalina and Anne Cole brand names, among others.

Many products sold by Warnaco and Authentic Fitness are manufactured abroad. Warnaco operates plants in Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ireland. Both subcontract production to other companies overseas.

So how goes the apparel business? For the years from 1993 to 1995, Warnaco reported revenue of $2.4 billion and profits of $134 million.

Its U.S. income tax payments, according to reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, came to about $10 million, giving Warnaco an effective tax rate of 7 percent.

Which means that a company with annual sales approaching $1 billion paid federal income taxes at a rate below that paid by families with incomes between $25,000 and $30,000.

You might want to view Warnaco’s low tax bill from another vantage point - the pay of its chief executive.

Linda Wachner’s salary and bonuses for the years 1993 to 1995 added up to $11.4 million - or more money than the company paid in U.S. income tax.

That does not include stock options and other stock deals. In 1995, for example, Wachner received a salary and bonus of $4.8 million, plus $6 million in stock, for a total compensation package of nearly $11 million. Her stock holdings in Warnaco and Authentic Fitness in 1996 were worth upward of $200 million.

At the same time that Wachner’s take-home pay soared into the millions, her company reduced the take-home pay of the workers at one of its plants.

In May, 1996, Warnaco announced it intended to close the plant in Waterville, Maine, where Hathaway shirts have been made for more than 150 years. The closing stunned workers. Michael Cavanaugh, an official of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which represents Hathaway employees, explained why:

“The amount of production went up from an average of 2,000 dozen a week to 3,000 dozen a week and the cost of that production went down almost in half (through 1995 and until May 1996).

“So there was some rather remarkable productivity improvements … that was one of the major reasons why people were so shocked when this announcement came, that, you know, ‘Thanks very much, but goodbye.”’

Of the 450 people who work at the Waterville plant, about 90 percent are women - many single mothers. Their average pay is $8 an hour. That’s $16,640 a year.

The $16,640 is based on a 40-hour week. After Wachner said she would keep the plant open until an investment group could be formed to buy it, she cut the workweek to 30 hours.

That’s $12,480 a year - which not only qualifies families for the earned-income tax credit but places some below the government’s poverty level. Whatever number you pick, $12,480 or $16,640, think of it this way:

Linda Wachner’s nearly $11 million compensation package for 1995 exceeds the total wages of the 400 women workers at her Waterville plant.

3 Graphics: 1. Most of the lowest-paid jobs are held by women 2. Women’s wages lag 3. Women in the work world

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