There are 20 million low-wage workers in the United States — and two-thirds of them are women. 

Unless women have a bachelor’s degree, they are overrepresented in low-wage jobs. 

Even in low-wage jobs, women working full time, year round make just 87 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. 

These are some of the findings in National Women’s Law Center’s new report Underpaid & Overloaded: Women in Low-Wage Jobs, which analyzes the low-wage workforce (people working in jobs that pay $10.10 per hour or less). The report is full of new data, which you can also explore in our new interactive graphic and map. It also has solutions for how we can lighten the load for low-wage workers. Here are some of the key findings: 

Women’s shares of the low-wage workforce are larger than men’s, even though women’s shares of the workforce overall are almost always similar to or smaller than men’s: 

  • Women with some college or an associate’s degree make up double the share of the low-wage workforce as their male counterparts (22 percent v. 10 percent), even though their shares of the overall workforce are similar (15 percent v. 14 percent). 
  • Women 50 and older make up more than three times as large a share of the low-wage workforce as men 50 and older (17 percent v. 5 percent)—even though their shares of the overall workforce are similar (16 percent v. 17 percent). 
  • Mothers make up 3.5 times as large a share of the low-wage workforce as fathers (21 percent v. 6 percent), even though their shares of the overall workforce are similar (16 percent v. 17 percent).  

Women’s shares of the low-wage workforce are almost always larger than their shares of the overall workforce. For men, this is rarely true: 

  • Women with only a high school degree are 24 percent of the low-wage workforce, double their share of the overall workforce (12 percent).  Men with only a high school degree are underrepresented in the low-wage workforce: they are 12 percent of the low-wage workforce, 0.8 times their share of the overall workforce (15 percent). 
  • The only group of women that is underrepresented in the low-wage workforce is women with bachelor’s degrees or higher: they are 5 percent of the low-wage workforce, about one-third of their share of the overall workforce (17 percent). However, men with a bachelor’s degree or higher are even more underrepresented in the low-wage workforce: they are 3 percent of the low-wage workforce, one-fifth of their share of the overall workforce (18 percent). 
  • In contrast, only a few groups of men, including men without a high school degree, young men (age 16-24), and Hispanic men are overrepresented in the low-wage workforce compared to their share of the overall workforce — and even in these groups, men are overrepresented to a lesser extent than their female counterparts. 

Women in the low-wage workforce aren’t necessarily who you think they are: 

  • Nearly four out of five have at least a high school degree; more than four in ten have some college or more. 
  • Half work full time. 
  • Close to one-third are mothers — and 40 percent of them have family incomes below $25,000. 
  • More than one-quarter are age 50 and older — about the same share of the female low-wage workforce as women age 16 to 24. 
  • Nearly half are women of color. 

Women’s overrepresentation in low-wage jobs has serious implications for women and their families. When a woman works in a low-wage job as a maid, cashier, or fast food worker, she doesn’t just have to deal with a small paycheck, although that alone makes life incredibly difficult. She is also more likely to have an inflexible and unpredictable work schedule, impossible child care choices, and be vulnerable to discrimination and harassment. While the Affordable Care Act has significantly improved women’s access to affordable health insurance, workers in these jobs may still face barriers to health insurance coverage and services they need, including reproductive health care services. Read our new report to find out who these women are and what policymakers can do to address the challenges these women face. 

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