Report: Nearly one half of entire low-wage workforce women of color

Stephon Johnson | 8/7/2014, 12:30 p.m.

A new report released last week by the National Women’s Law Center concludes that almost half of America’s low-wage workforce consists of women of color.

Titled “Underpaid & Overloaded: Women in Low-Wage Jobs,” the report takes a look at the women and men in the low-wage workforce, who work in occupations such as home health aides, child care workers, fast-food workers, restaurant servers, maids and cashiers. Low-wage jobs, as per this report, are jobs that typically pay $10.10 an hour or less.

The report reveals that regardless of education level, age, marital or parental status, race, ethnicity or national origin, women make up a significant portion of the low-wage workforce. Furthermore, there has been an increase seen in African-American women’s share of the low-wage workforce (12 percent), doubling their share of the overall workforce (6 percent). The same applied to Hispanic women, with 15 percent of the low-wage workforce and 7 percent of the share of the overall workforce.

The report also revealed that of the women who make up two-thirds of the close to 20 million low-wage workers, only one in 10 is a teenager and more than 25 percent are 50 years and older. Four out of five female low-wage workers have a high school degree or higher and more than four in 10 have some college or higher. Almost one in three are single mothers and 40 percent have family incomes below $25,000 annually.

“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, the National Women’s Law Center’s vice president for family economic security. “Women are underpaid and overloaded with stress from low incomes, high care giving responsibilities, and employers and policy makers who still don’t get it.”

Women’s presence in the low-wage job market has increased in recent years, with more than 35 percent of women’s net job gains during the Great Recession recovery having been jobs that pay $10.10 or less. As for men, only 20 percent of men’s job gains have been in low-wage jobs.

Low-wage jobs often lack benefits and paid sick leave, making access to affordable health insurance coverage and services, such as reproductive health care and child care, difficult. This forces many low-wage earning women to take on a second job to meet their financial needs.

“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,” said Entmacher. “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.”