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NWLC Report: almost one-half of females in low-wage workforce are women of color
7/31/2014 3:46:23 PM

Washington, D.C. -  Almost two-thirds of workers in low-wage jobs that typically pay $10.10 per hour or less are women, and almost half of them are women of color according to a new report released today by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).  The report reveals that regardless of their education level, age, marital or parental status, race, ethnicity, or national origin, women’s shares of the low-wage workforce are larger than those of their male counterparts.  African American women’s share of the low-wage workforce (12 percent) is double their share of the overall workforce (6 percent).  Hispanic women’s share of the low-wage workforce (15 percent) is more than double their share of the overall workforce (7 percent).

“Our startling and disturbing findings belie the conventional wisdom that women are thriving in today’s economy and underscore a basic fact:  the job and income prospects for many women are bleak, said Joan Entmacher,” NWLC Vice President for Family Economic Security.   “Women are underpaid and overloaded with stress from low incomes, high caregiving responsibilities, and employers and policy makers who still don’t get it.”

Underpaid & Overloaded:  Women in Low-Wage Jobs provides the first comprehensive look at the women and men in the low-wage workforce, holding down jobs such as home health aides, child care workers, fast food workers, restaurant servers, maids and cashiers.  The report reveals that the women who make up two-thirds of the nearly 20 million low-wage workers defy typical assumptions.  Only one in 10 is a teenager and more than one-quarter are 50 and older.  Four out of five female low-wage workers have a high school degree or higher; more than four in 10 have some college or higher.  Close to one-third are mothers—and 40 percent of them have family incomes below $25,000 a year. 

Women’s concentration in low-wage jobs has increased in recent years—and the trend is likely to continue.  More than 35 percent of women’s net job gains during the recovery from the Great Recession have been in jobs that typically pay $10.10 per hour or less; only 20 percent of men’s job gains have been in low-wage jobs. 

The report highlights the characteristics of low-wage jobs that especially pose challenges to women in their dual roles as breadwinners and caregivers and the policy solutions that would improve standards for all workers.  These jobs often lack basic benefits such as paid sick leave, and workers may still face barriers to affordable health insurance coverage and services they need, including reproductive health care.  Child care is expensive, and child care assistance and early learning opportunities are limited.  Women working in low-wage jobs, especially women of color, often face discrimina­tion and harassment. Many of these workers face unpredictable and inflexible work schedules that make it hard to hold down a second job to make ends meet, take classes to continue education, or balance family responsibilities.

The report outlines a comprehensive agenda to address the challenges faced by women in low-wage jobs.  The agenda would increase economic security through a combination of higher wages and supports such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, nutrition and housing assistance, affordable health insurance, and an end of restrictions on women’s reproductive health care. It would support workers with family responsibilities by expanding child care assistance and early learning, curbing abusive scheduling practices, and ensuring paid sick days and paid family leave.  It would remove barriers to opportunity by strengthening and enforcing protection against employment discrimination and providing a path to citizenship for immigrants who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination.  It would create opportunity by making higher education more affordable, supporting pregnant and parenting students, and expanding women’s access to higher-paying, nontraditional jobs.  And it would empower workers by strengthening opportunities for collective action through traditional unions and new worker justice organizations.

“The surprising and sobering portrait of women low-wage workers that our analysis uncovered should compel lawmakers to adopt an agenda that improves economic security for women and their families.  It should be a no-brainer:  policies that work for women in low-wage jobs will lift up all workers and their families and strengthen our economy for everyone,” Entmacher said.


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