All working people should be able to support themselves and their families. But far too often, employers do not provide the wages, hours, or benefits that people need to achieve economic security and stability. This is especially true for women, and for women of color most of all. Women represent nearly two-thirds of the workforce in low-paid jobs (defined here as the 40 lowest paying jobs). Women of every race—especially Latinas, Native American women, and Black women—are overrepresented in these jobs across the United States.
Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, millions of women working in low-paid jobs are on the front lines of the crisis. Women who have struggled to get by as restaurant servers and bartenders, fast food workers, hotel clerks, housekeeping cleaners, retail salespersons, nail salon workers, staff at theaters and other entertainment venues, and in other service sector positions face a high risk of losing their jobs altogether. And many others—including the personal care and home health aides caring for people managing illness in their homes, the cashiers staffing grocery stores, and the child care workers caring for the children of health care workers and first responders—find that their work is more essential than ever but no less undervalued, with decent pay and basic benefits still out of reach.
When Hard Work Is Not Enough: Women in Low-Paid Jobs examines who women in low-paid jobs are and how they were faring in 2018, the most recent year for which national data on poverty and income are available—and it finds that in a year in which by some measures our economy was booming, millions of women in low-paid jobs were facing severe economic hardship. In 2020, the rapid spread of the new coronavirus has dramatically shifted our economic landscape—and it is these women and their families who are likely to be hit first and hardest by the recession that follows.