Respect Poverty

Women, people of color and single parents disproportionally represent low-wage workforce

Denis Stankovic/ iStock

Story at a glance

  • A new report by Oxfam America outlined the current crisis of low wages in the U.S.
  • It found more than a quarter of the country’s workforce earns less than $15 per hour.
  • Among all women, 40 percent earn less than $15 per hour, while 50 percent of Black women earn less than $15 per hour.

More than a quarter of the country’s workforce currently makes less than $15 per hour, with millions more earning less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Women, people of color and single parents disproportionately represent these low wage workers. That’s despite the Fair Labor Standards Act establishing a federal minimum wage along with provisions for overtime and child labor. 

Oxfam America, a global nonprofit, released a new study that outlined the crisis of low wages in the U.S. The research found more than 32 percent of the U.S. labor force, or 51.9 million workers, currently make less than $15 per hour, while many workers are stuck at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. 

Oxfam emphasized that 2009 was the last time the federal minimum wage was changed, which even at the time was “not sufficient to provide for the most basic costs of living in any state in the United States.” 

Now in 2022, inflation has hit roughly 7 percent, the highest rate since 1982, putting low-wage workers in an even tighter position to make ends meet. 

There are clear demographic patterns among low wage earners, as Oxfam found 40 percent of women, about 31 million people, earn less than $15 per hour. That percentage jumps up to 50 percent when accounting for women of color. At the same time, 25 percent of men earn less than $15.  

When looking at wages by race, 46 percent of Hispanic/Latinx workers earn less than $15 per hour while 47 percent of Black workers also earn less than $15 per hour. Comparatively, 26 percent of white workers earn less than $15.  

Among single parents, 57 percent, about 11.2 million people, also earn less than $15 per hour.  


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Oxfam emphasized that despite the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishing a minimum wage in 1938, it excluded many workers that didn’t qualify for the minimum wage, including farmworkers, domestic workers and restaurant workers. Though Congress did later amend FLSA to include restaurant workers, they were only offered a “subminimum ‘tipped wage,’” which leans on restaurant patrons to tip workers to make up for the difference in hourly wages. 

Oxfam noted that these tipped jobs are largely held by women and disproportionately by women of color.  

Since 1991 the federal tipped minimum wage in the U.S. has been $2.13 an hour, which is less than 30 percent of the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 

More recently in 2015, minimum wages were extended to direct care workers, a subcategory of domestic workers that include certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers and companions. 

“Millions of people in the U.S. are working but living in poverty and anxiety, a single lost paycheck away from despair,” said Kaitlyn Henderson, a senior research adviser with Oxfam’s US domestic policy program. 

Henderson argued that raising the minimum hourly wage for all workers to $15 would be a starting point toward eradicating working poverty in the U.S. — while also advocating for ending subminimum wages as a policy and including all workers within the framework of minimum wage. 

Some companies have taken the matter into their own hands, like retail giant Target, which announced it would adopt a minimum wage system that will pay employees up to $24 an hour. Bank of America also made a similar announcement, saying it would be increasing its minimum wage to $21 an hour amid labor shortages across the country.  

Many states have also raised the minimum wage on their own accord, with a total of 26 states implementing wage hikes beginning this year. The highest wage will be paid in the city of West Hollywood, Ca., which is setting a $17.64 minimum wage per hour for hotel workers.  

President Biden attempted to raise the federal minimum wage through executive action, signing an order last April to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour. It requires all agencies to comply with the wage increase by March of this year. 

Oxfam’s latest report is consistent with data from the U.S. Department of Labor, which found women are paid 83 percent of what men are paid, while women of color are only paid 57 percent of what white non-Hispanic men make.


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