Resource

Women in Low-Wage Jobs May Not Be Who You Expect

By Jasmine Tucker and Kayla Patrick

Women make up nearly six in ten (58 percent) workers in low-wage jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour. Women are even more overrepresented in the lowest-wage jobs: close to seven in ten (69 percent) of those holding jobs that typically pay less than $10 per hour are women. And a disproportionate number of women in low-wage jobs are women of color.

Women in low-wage jobs work hard serving food, cleaning homes and offices, caring for children and elderly adults, and more—and while many assume that those working for such low wages are primarily people who haven’t completed high school, or teens holding their first jobs, or women who are working part-time to supplement a primary breadwinner’s earnings, that is not the case. The vast majority of women in low-wage jobs are not teenagers, nor do they lack high school diplomas. Most don’t have a spouse’s income to rely on, and many are supporting children. Many are working full time and/or year round.

Many women in the low-wage workforce are women of color.

  • Black women and Latinas are overrepresented in the low-wage workforce, while white, non-Hispanic women are underrepresented compared to their share of the overall workforce.
    • Latinas make up 15 percent of women in the overall workforce but 24 percent of women in the low-wage workforce and 20 percent of women in the lowest-wage jobs.
    • Black women make up 13 percent of women in the overall workforce but 18 percent of women in the low-wage workforce and 16 percent of women in the lowest-wage jobs.

Most women in the low-wage workforce have a high school diploma or higher.

  • While women with lower levels of education are overrepresented in the low-wage workforce, most women in jobs that pay less than $11 or even $10 per hour have a high school diploma or more.
    • Among women in low-wage jobs that pay less than $11 per hour, nearly four in five (80 percent) have a high school diploma or a higher education level.
    • The same is true for women in the lowest-wage jobs that pay less than $10 per hour, with 78 percent having a high school diploma or higher. Indeed, more than two in five (43 percent) of women in these lowest-wage jobs have at least some college education.

The vast majority of women in the low-wage workforce are beyond their teenage years.

  • Nearly nine in ten women (89 percent) in jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour are age 20 or older. More than four in ten women in these jobs (44 percent) are ages 25 to 49, their prime working years.
  • Among women in the lowest-wage jobs that typically pay less than $10 per hour, nearly four in five (79 percent) are age 20 or older, with more than one in three (34 percent) in their prime working years.

Most women in the low-wage workforce do not have a spouse’s income to rely on.

  • Half of women (50 percent) in the workforce are unmarried, but unmarried women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.
  • About two-thirds of women (67 percent) in jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour are single.
  • Among women in jobs that typically pay less than $10 per hour, nearly four in five women (78 percent) are unmarried.

Many women in the low-wage workforce are supporting children.

  • More than one in three women (35 percent) in the overall workforce have at least one child under 18 at home. A similar share of women (32 percent) in jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour have one or more children under 18 in the home, and among women in jobs that typically pay less than $10 per hour, more than one in four (25 percent) are supporting children under 18.
  • Among women in the overall workforce, one in ten (10 percent) is supporting at least one child under 4 years old. Similarly, one in ten women working in jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour or less than $10 per hour is supporting very young children.

Many women in the low-wage workforce work full time.

  • Three in four women (75 percent) in the overall workforce work full time while two-thirds (66 percent) work full time and year round.
  • More than half of women (54 percent) in jobs that typically pay less than $11 per hour work full time while 45 percent work full time and year round. Of the women working part time in these jobs, about one in five are doing so involuntarily and would prefer to find full-time work.
  • Among women in jobs that typically pay less than $10 per hour, nearly four in ten (39 percent) work full time while one-third (33 percent) work full time and year round. About one in five women working part time in these jobs would prefer to work full time.