Women make up a disproportionate and increasing share of the low-wage labor force, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center. The report, “Underpaid and Overloaded: Women in Low-Wage Jobs,” shows that Women make up two-thirds of the low-wage work force – jobs paying under $10.10 per hour – despite making up less than half of the overall workforce. During the recovery from the great recession, 35 percent of new jobs for women have been low-wage, leading to a 6 percent increase in the share of women holding low-wage jobs between 2007 and 2012.
The overrepresentation of women of women among low-wage workers is particularly pronounced for women with only a high school education. Women with a high school education make up 24 percent of the low-wage workforce, despite being only 12 percent of the overall workforce. By contrast, Men with a high school degree are under-represented, making up 12 percent of the low-wage workforce and 15 percent of the overall workforce. Even women with some college or an associates degrees are overrepresented in the low-wage labor force. In other words, to avoid being overrepresented, women need a bachelor’s degree, while men only need a high school diploma. Low-wage labor is also marked by racial disparities, as nearly half the women in the low-wage labor force are women of color.
About four out of five women in the low-wage workforce have a high school diploma, and while education levels have continued to increase among women and among the low-wage workforce generally, wages have stagnated or gone down.
Even within the low-wage labor force women are paid less, 13 percent less, or 87 cents on the dollar. Here, too, there is a marked racial disparity, with Hispanic women earning only 78 cents on the dollar compared to men in the low-wage labor force. The fact that women are also overrepresented in the low-wage labor force brings us to the more familiar figure of women being paid only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men in the overall workforce.
These increases in gender-based wage inequality come at a time when women’s incomes are even more important to families than before, as 41 percent of women are primary breadwinners and another 22 percent are co-breadwinners for their families.
The National Women’s Law Center calls for:
- Increased economic security through a higher minimum wage and earned income tax credit (EITC)
- Supporting family activity though affordable child care and a curb on abusive scheduling practices
- Removing barriers to opportunity by eliminating workplace discrimination
- Creating pathways to opportunity by making higher education more affordable
- Strengthening opportunities for collective action, both through traditional unions and new worker justice organizations
Expanding Medicaid also plays a key role in improving economic security for women and families. with over 60 percent of bankruptcies in the U.S. caused by medical bills. Unfortunately, several states have chosen not to expand Medicaid for political reasons. These states are literally passing up free money from the federal government – money that could provide medical insurance to people who need it – in order to avoid the political stigma of being associated with the Affordable Care Act. The 23 states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid actually contain a majority of the women who could benefit from expansion. (A state-by-state breakdown is available on p. 27 of the report).
Finally, the National Women’s Law Center also provides breakdowns of women in the low-wage labor force by state, showing the number of women in the low-wage workforce as well as their share of the overall workforce. In most states, women in the workforce are twice as likely to be low-wage workers as men in the workforce. (Note: a state by state breakdown of women’s share of the low-wage workforce is available on p. 24 of the report – showing that women make up over 60 percent of the low-wage workforce in every state).
In 2014, it is unacceptable that not only are women not equal to men in their position in the labor force, but we are moving the wrong direction, with women making up an increasing share of the low-wage labor force. We have the policy tools to correct this injustice – improved childcare, access to education, cracking down on workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, and ensuring equal pay for equal work. All we lack is the political will.