What recovery? Economic “upturn” means more low-wage jobs for women

flickr woman 8.12While the U.S. has finally regained the number of jobs lost during the Great Recession, those gains have been disproportionately concentrated in low-wage sectors – especially for women. Nationally, more than one in three jobs gained in the recovery by women pay $10.10 per hour or less, compared with one in five jobs gained by men. Some other startling stats from the National Women’s Law Center latest research:

  • Women with some college or an associate’s degree make up 22% of the low-wage workforce, compared with 10% of men, even though their shares of the overall workforce are nearly equivalent (15% for women and 14% for men).
  • Mothers are three and half times more likely to work a low-wage job than fathers, 21% vs. 6%.
  • Women age 50 and older make up more than three times the share of the low-wage workforce than their male counterparts (17% vs. 5%), despite having similar shares of the overall workforce.
  • African American women make up 12% of the low-wage workforce, but just 6% of the overall workforce. African American men make up 5% of both the low-wage workforce and the overall workforce.

Here in Washington, things aren’t much different. Women make up nearly half of our state’s workforce but two thirds of low-wage workforce. Further, women are more than twice as likely to work in low-wage jobs as men – including jobs as home health aides, maids and retail cashiers.

Although we have a higher wage floor, a $9.32 minimum wage that rises each year with inflation, our state also has industry disparities due to the concentration of high tech and aerospace engineering jobs, which are largely predominated by men. So, despite a higher wage floor, we see significant imbalances in gender pay equity, particularly in the Seattle metropolitan area.

Adding more low-wage jobs that prevent economic stability for working families isn’t going to get our economy back on track. Low wages are a major barrier for women and their families, as are a lack of critical benefits, including paid leave. To combat growing inequality, Washington needs to embrace a Women’s Economic Security Agenda that ensures fair pay and access to paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance. Today, women make up nearly half of the workforce and are much more likely to be breadwinners. It’s time our state invests in strengthening women’s economic security to ensure the greatest success for all working families.

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