By Richard Eidlin
Voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives and social enterprises are essential, but are not game changers by themselves. In addition, we need laws and regulations that guide our economy toward sound, long-term decision-making, with full recognition of social and environmental externalities. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more sustainable. Here are three important policies to consider supporting – and specific actions you can take.
1. A Stronger Minimum Wage is Good for Business
Last month marked the fourth year without an increase in the federal minimum wage. The current $7.25 federal minimum wage is lower than it was in 1956 ($8.58, adjusted for inflation). Today’s minimum wage workers have far less buying power than their counterparts did in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its highest value of $10.74, adjusted for inflation
What’s at Stake
With the Main Street economy still struggling, raising the minimum wage makes good business sense. Workers are also customers. Increasing the minimum wage will boost sales at local businesses as workers buy needed goods and services they could not afford before. Businesses also see cost savings from lower employee turnover and benefit from increased productivity, product quality and customer satisfaction. Increasing the minimum wage will also reduce the strain on our social safety net caused by inadequate wages.
A recent national poll shows that 67 percent of small business owners support increasing the federal minimum wage and adjusting it yearly to keep pace with the cost of living. The most rigorous studies of the impact of actual minimum wage increases show they do not cause job loss – whether during periods of economic growth or during recessions.
What You Can Do
- Sign the petition for a fair minimum wage
- Learn more business benefits from increasing the minimum wage
- See the business letter of support to Senator Harkin
2. A Hard Look at Toxic Chemicals
Two weeks ago, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). During the hearing, Senators agreed that it was past time to reform the decades-old law, and lauded the increasing bipartisan support for action. The hearing was also successful in pointing out flaws in the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S.1009), introduced earlier this year by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA). Particular attention was paid to flawed preemption language in the bill, lack of deadlines for EPA to act and the absence of a fee mechanism for EPA to effectively implement the legislation.
Polling has shown that business owners are concerned about the presence of toxic chemicals in everyday products, and support action to regulate them. Business leaders recognize that the adverse health and business impacts of toxic chemicals can negatively impact their bottom lines as well as public health, and want to take appropriate action to protect consumers.
What’s At Stake
While this hearing was important in showing that there is support for reform, anti-regulation lobbies are working hard to maintain a status quo of outdated frameworks and weak enforcement.
On the positive side, reforming TSCA will spur innovation in cleaner and safer products, creating business profits and more jobs, enhancing safety in the workplace as it improves the health of our communities and environment.
What You Can Do
- Add your name to the list of business endorsers of toxic chemical reform
- Learn more about what should be improved in the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013
- See recent polling of small business views on Toxic Chemicals
3. Help Needed for Equal Pay
The position of women in the economy has long been a contentious issue, and progress in economic parity is slow in coming. Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, full-time working women are still paid only 77 cents on every dollar earned by men, for a difference of approximately $11,000 per year. For African American women and Latinas the pay gap is even larger. African American women on average earn only 64 cents and Latinas on average earn only 55 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
Workplace discrimination certainly contributes to the pay gap, however, other factors also influence the disparity. For example, male-dominated occupational fields pay consistently more than female-dominated fields. As women have begun earning degrees in traditionally male fields, this gap has begun to close, but it still remains achingly wide.
And pay equity is only one aspect of disparities between women and men. In September of 2011 Newsweek published a survey outlining the rights and quality of life of women around the world. The study showed that the United States fell to 8th place globally regarding issues including justice, health education, politics and economics.
What’s at Stake
From a practical standpoint, unequal pay results in a loss of more than $300 billion in potential spending and savings by women wage-earners every year.
Economic inequity between men and women also hurts job growth by hitting female entrepreneurs. Loan approval rates for women-owned companies are 15 to 20 percent lower than they are for male‐owned companies. And, in recent years, women‐owned small businesses have received only four percent of the more than $400 billion in federal government contracts awarded to small businesses.
Finally, in July of this year, House Democrats introduced a program designed to increase economic opportunities for women. Along with other lawmakers, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pushing a series of bills aimed at promoting equal pay in the workplace, increasing affordable childcare, and helping to promote an adequate work/life balance for the working women of the nation.
What You Can Do
- Read up on Nancy Pelosi’s proposals
- Learn more about pay equity and discrimination
- Engage through Women Impacting Public Policy
Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Director – Public Policy and Business Engagement.