In recent decades, women’s work experience and educational attainment have increased dramatically—but for too many women, especially women of color, job and income prospects remain bleak. Women make up two-thirds of the over 23 million workers in low-wage jobs (defined as jobs that typically pay $10.50 per hour or less), though they make up slightly less than half of the workforce as a whole. Women of color are particularly overrepresented in these jobs. Wages of $10.50 per hour leave a full-time working mother of two with an annual income scarcely above the poverty line, and many low-wage jobs pay just the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. These jobs leave many women and families struggling to make ends meet—and the situation is unlikely to improve on its own: indeed, the jobs expected to see the most growth in the next decade are primarily female-dominated and low-wage. Policymakers must take action to ensure that all jobs our economy creates allow women and their families to be economically secure.
The five jobs with the largest projected job growth in the next decade are primarily female-dominated and low-wage.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that personal care aides, registered nurses, home health aides, combined food preparation & serving workers (including fast food workers), and retail salespersons will be the five occupations with the most job growth between 2014 and 2024. Each of these jobs will add at least 300,000 positions in the next ten years; all together they will add 1.9 million jobs, accounting for one-fifth of total job growth.
- Among these five occupations:
- All have workforces that are more than 50 percent women, and four are female-dominated, with workforces that are at least 60 percent women.
- Four are low-wage, typically paying less than $10.50 per hour, and have no formal educational requirement.
- Three of the five jobs are both female-dominated and low-wage. These jobs are personal care aides, home health aides, and combined food preparation and serving workers (including fast food workers).
- In the fourth low-wage job, retail salespersons, women are just over half the workforce, though the size of the retail industry means that more women work as retail salespersons than in any of the other three low-wage, high-growth jobs. Among retail salespersons, women and people of color disproportionately fill the lowest paid positions, while white men disproportionately fill the most well-compensated jobs.
In many low-wage jobs, pay is not the only problem.
For many workers in the four low-wage, high-growth jobs, low pay is just one of the challenging conditions they face. Jobs in the food service, retail, and home health/personal care industries are also particularly likely to lack benefits—like paid sick days and paid family leave—and have work schedules that are unstable and unpredictable. For example, in a national survey of early career workers (ages 26-32), about nine in ten workers in food service and retail jobs, and seven in ten home care workers, reported fluctuating work hours. In all three jobs, at least half of workers reported that they received their schedules one week or less in advance. These conditions can be particularly problematic for parents juggling work and caregiving responsibilities, yet mothers’ share of the four low-wage, high-growth jobs is 20 percent—1.3 times larger than their share of the overall workforce (15 percent).
Women overall are overrepresented in the four low-wage, high-growth jobs, but women of color—especially African American women—are particularly overrepresented.
- Women overall account for more than two-thirds of the workforce for these four jobs, though they comprise less than half of the overall workforce.
- Women of color account for 33 percent of the four low-wage, high-growth jobs, compared to 17 percent of the total workforce, meaning their share of these low-wage, high-growth jobs is nearly double their share of the overall workforce.
- For African American women the disparity is even greater. Their share of the four low-wage, high-growth jobs (16 percent) is 2.6 times larger than their share of the overall workforce (6 percent).
- The inequality for foreign-born women is nearly as large—their share of these four jobs (13 percent) is 1.9 times their share of the overall workforce (7 percent).