Women Make Up Nearly Two-Thirds of The Low Wage Job Force

Supermajority Education Fund

April 13, 2020

A new study from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) finds that the 40 lowest paid professions in the United States disproportionately employ women. Women hold nearly two-thirds of these jobs, which were determined by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2018, and women of color —  particularly Latinas, Native American women, and Black women — are overrepresented in the low wage job force.

A number of these low-paid jobs have been the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the public health crisis that we’re all experiencing now, millions of these women are doing truly essential work on the front lines—staffing grocery stores, providing child care, taking care of older folks in their homes—and are risking their own health to keep us all safe,” Julie Vogtman, NWLC’s Director of Job Quality & Senior Counsel, told Supermajority News.At the same time, many more—women who work in restaurants, hotels, salons, movie theaters, and the like—are facing unemployment.”

In fact, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that nearly 60 percent of the 701,000 jobs lost in March were held by women — and that 261,000 of those jobs were held by women in the leisure and hospitality sector. 

While a common misconception is that the women working these jobs lack education, the study found that eight out of 10 had high school diplomas and that almost half had completed some college. Despite that, even those who worked 40 hours a week still lived in poverty or just above the poverty line. 

Their employers typically paid them in the range of $10 or $11 an hour, which means many struggled to afford the basics—rent, groceries, child care, health care—and had to rely on a patchwork of support from family, friends, and under-funded public programs,” said Vogtman. “They certainly couldn’t build up a financial cushion for tougher times.”

As cities and states across the United States work to support those struggling through the current economic crisis, Vogtman says policymakers need to ensure these low wage workers are not left behind. 

“In the short term, we need to ensure that the front line workers who are keeping us all safe and healthy are protected on the job,” she noted, adding that most of these workers did not have access to employer-sponsored healthcare or paid leave. “I hope the crisis we’re now facing is revealing how it hurts all of us when the women working in jobs we all depend on are expected to go without the pay or the benefits or the time off they need to care for themselves and their families.”