It isn’t a secret that Washington has been in a state of gridlock and discord, driven by both political grandstanding and deeply entrenched political ideologies. But what may be more of a surprise is that members of Congress from polarized sides of the political spectrum agree with each other, and with the American public, on one thing: the importance of the American dream, and keeping that dream within reach of country’s workers. Sen. Marco Rubio described the American dream as “allow[ing] us all to succeed economically, achieve stability and security for [our families] and leave [our] children better off than [our]selves.” Nancy Pelosi said, “the American dream is about freedom. Jobs mean freedom for workers to support their families.”
But for transgender Americans, this basic bargain of hard work, fair judgment on the merits, and the ability to advance in life is broken.
A new report, co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), dives deep into an analysis of this broken bargain for transgender workers, and offers specific recommendations for businesses and policymakers to make the American dream a realistic vision for transgender workers.
The findings of the report may come as a shock to many readers – 9 out of 10 voters mistakenly believe that transgender workers are protected against employment discrimination under federal law. In reality, no federal law provides explicit legal protections for transgender workers based on their gender identity or expression. And at the state level, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have transgender-inclusive employment nondiscrimination laws.
As a result, transgender workers face higher rates of unemployment and greater risk of poverty. A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers, shows that:
- Transgender workers are unemployed at twice the rate of the population as a whole, making it harder for them to support themselves and their families.
- More than four in ten transgender workers in the job market are underemployed. Employers who judge transgender job candidates based on factors other than merit lose out on highly motivated – and often highly educated – workers.
- Transgender workers are nearly four times more likely to live on less than $10,000 a year. Living in this kind of extreme poverty has negative effects on physical health, and can make it difficult to meet basic needs.
The lack of legal protections for transgender employees also has a direct impact on the conditions they face in the workplace. Transgender people face the prospect of unequal benefits, harassment, job loss, and even physical violence on the job. The report details research on the mistreatment of transgender workers:
- Nearly eight in ten transgender workers has experienced mistreatment or discrimination in the workplace, ranging from disclosure of private information, to verbal harassment, to being forced to present in the wrong gender in order to keep their jobs.
- One in four transgender workers has lost a job simply because of who they are. For transgender people of color, this rate is even higher, reflecting the “multiplier effect” of race and gender identity based discrimination. Far from being judged based on the work they do, it is clear that too many transgender workers are punished simply for living authentic lives.
- One in 14 transgender workers have been victims of physical violence at work. Transgender employees without basic protections may be risking their own safety just by doing their jobs.
- Health insurance exclusions and denial of medical leave means that transgender employees may be left with a difficult choice: risking their jobs to get the care they need, or risking their health by putting their care on hold.
This degree of egregious inequality is not what the American dream is about. Transgender workers deserve the same chance to achieve success as every other hardworking employee who dedicates themselves to public service, puts in extra hours at an office job, or strains their body doing a hard days labor.
Not everyone has a transgender friend or loved one, but the values underlying the basic American bargain transcend personal relationships. This dream unites Americans regardless of age, race, gender identity — and yes, even political party. The stories of transgender employees and research on workplace inequality cannot be ignored, and policymakers must take action to mend the broken bargain for transgender workers.
Andrew Cray is a Policy Analyst for LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress