According to a new study by Oxfam and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women make up the majority of the low-wage work force. Within that demographic, women of color and foreign women are disproportionately represented and—over the next several years—the numbers are only expected to worsen.
“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,” reads the report. “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 (which, for the sake of the study, includes jobs that pay employees less than $15 per hour)—like healthcare support, administrative positions, cleaning, cooking, and serving—are traditionally seen as “women’s work,” but even within those industries, women are, on average, paid less and and advance slower than their male coworkers. These factors only serve to increase the wage gap, with “43 percent of women in these jobs (8.2 million) [living] in or near poverty.”
Stacey McFadin at the Christian Science Monitor reports:
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.
According to the study, “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.”
To rectify the situation, researchers recommend a raise in the federal minimum wage (which is currently stalled at $7.25), a stricter regulation of employee schedules, guaranteed paid time off, safer working environments, and stronger equal pay laws.
Ivanka, this is your domain, no?