A new index from Oxfam assesses labor laws and worker protections in all states in the country. The rankings are intriguing, and sometimes surprising.
If you work in the US, federal laws help determine compensation and conditions in your workplace. Policies and agencies set standards for minimum wages, health and safety, leave policies, and more. However, state laws matter as well – and, in 2018, are more vital than ever. If you live in one of the best states for workers, your wages and conditions are significantly better than in one of the worst states; what’s more, your well-being is likely much better as well.
Currently, the federal government is refusing to consider moves that would improve circumstances for low-wage workers. In this eroding climate, states are making moves to keep workers and their families out of poverty, and to give them a decent chance. Most states have raised minimum wages above the federal threshold of $7.25 (a poverty wage). These boosts make a solid difference. For example, in Washington, DC, a full-time minimum wage job pays $27,560 annually ($13.25 an hour); in Virginia, the same job pays $15,080 annually ($7.25 an hour). Some states have also protected rights to organize, ensured paid sick leave – and more.
The index is based on three dimensions: wages, worker protections, and right to organize laws. And it’s not just academic: there are correlations between these policies, and several indicators of quality of life for working families. For example, states that have higher scores have longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates.
Some of the interesting findings:
- States vary substantially in their index scores, even states that border each other.
- Virginia comes out last, and Washington, DC, at the top. Washington State, California, and Massachusetts also ranked at the top; Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi at the bottom.
- In no states does the minimum wage approach a living wage for a family of four.
- States lag in worker protection. While the majority of states have made progress on the basic equal pay legislation and a basic sexual harassment law, few have passed paid sick leave, paid family leave, or fair scheduling laws.
Oxfam specifically recommends increasing minimum wages, improving worker protections (such as strengthening equal pay laws), providing workplace protections for pregnant and breastfeeding workers, ensuring job-protected paid family and medical leave, and guaranteeing paid sick days, while repealing laws that undermine worker freedom to bargain collectively.