American labour law discriminates against women

The U.S. Fair Labour Standards Act was passed in 1938 to regulate the wages and working standards of factory workers, set a minimum wage and eight hour work day, and overtime. It was initially beneficial to workers, but critics contend it has outlived its usefulness and actually discriminates against lower-income women. This is largely because of the changing family structure and women's increasing participation in the work force.

  • In 1940, 67 percent of households were traditional ones in which the father was the wage earner and the mother remained at home – while today only 17 percent fit that description.

  • Between 1976 and 1998, the average weekly hours women worked increased 42 percent and the proportion of women working overtime rose from 14 percent to 21.6 percent.

    The FLSA's strict overtime regulations limit work arrangements that will accommodate the diverse needs of working women.

  • Working mothers are 83 percent more likely to take time off to care for a child than working fathers, and their intermittent departures from the labour force lower average lifetime wages.

  • Wage and hour provisions of the FSLA apply generally to hourly workers, thus largely exempting executive and professional occupations – meaning most lower-income workers, who are paid hourly, are affected by the rule.

  • Since 64 percent of minimum wage earners are women, the FLSA especially discriminates against lower-income women workers.

    Yet most workers, and particularly women workers, favour flexible "comp time" to the rigid overtime requirements of the FLSA (see figure

    Suggested reforms include a biweekly work schedule that would allow employees to work 80 hours over a two-week period any combination; flexible credit-hours that would allow any hours worked over 40 in one week to be saved and used toward unpaid leave later; and compensatory time and a half off in lieu of overtime pay.

    Source: Denise Venable, Labour Law Discriminates Against Women, Brief Analysis No. 365, August 6, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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    FMF\14 August 2001
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