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The Majority of Low-Wage Workers in the U.S. Are Women & It’s Only Getting Worse

Customer using touch screen to make payment at a coffee shop

Women often get the short end of the stick, am I right? Which is why it comes as absolutely no surprise to me to find out that most low-wage workers in the U.S. are women–which has now been confirmed by a new study by Oxfam and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The study discovered, though not shockingly, that women make up the majority of the low-wage work force. Within that demographic, women of color and foreign women are the majority. The bad thing? It doesn’t look like it’s about to get any better either. The report reads:

“Millions of people in the US work in jobs that offer few rewards and demand a great deal. These jobs pay low wages, provide scant benefits, impose irregular hours, and take a toll on physical and emotional health. Most of these workers are women. The gender segregation of the workforce (in the US and globally) has meant, in general, that women are concentrated in jobs that pay lower wages.”

Many low-wage jobs (this study included jobs that pay employees less than $15 per hour) are often seen as “women’s work,” which are jobs like healthcare support, administrative positions, cleaning, cooking, and serving–which is a problem on its own–made only worse by the fact that there are still wage disparages even among women and men in those jobs. According to the study, women also advance less often and more slowly than their dude counterparts. As of now, “43 percent of women in these jobs (8.2 million) [are living] in or near poverty.”

Stacey McFadin at the Christian Science Monitor reported it best:

“One-third of all women working in low-wage women’s jobs were mothers, and 15 percent were single mothers. Barriers such as language, education, lack of child care options, and documentation prevented job advancement and frequently led to labor abuse due to a lack of worker options.

The impact of working in low-wage women’s jobs is that 8.2 million women live at or near the poverty line. Due to a median hourly wage of US $11.30, many of these women utilize social assistance programs to take care of themselves and their families. Much of low-wage women’s work is part-time, lacks benefits, offers little to no sick leave, and employs unpredictable and irregular hours. For women who are the primary caretaker at home, job security becomes scarce when life intervenes with a sick child.”

Even worse, the report was upfront about how terrible job prospects look right now for women:

“Low-wage women’s jobs will increase at one and a half times the rate of all other jobs” over the next decade and “even more women will be faced with the need to take jobs that undervalue their education and skills, undercompensate their contributions, and exact heavy physical and emotional costs.”

So, how can this problem be fixed? The researchers recommended a raise in the federal minimum wage (which is currently stalled at $7.25, which no one can live off of in any U.S. state currently), guaranteed paid time off, safer working environments, and stronger equal pay laws–which don’t sound crazy to me.

Remember how I said it was going to get worse? Well, the researchers projected that by 2024, one in six of all jobs will be in low-wage women’s work. This is clearly a problem we can’t ignore–and this isn’t about education–this is about allowing women (and people in general) in “low-wage” jobs to actually support themselves. Just because someone works in retail, as a barista, a cook, secretary, etc., doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be entitled to afford a place to live, food to eat, and have benefits like healthcare and time off. Don’t we want to teach our children that all members of society are equal, regardless of profession and gender?


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