Oxfam: Almost one-third of US workers make less than $15 an hour

Nearly a third of all U.S. workers make less than $15 an hour, and women, Black and Hispanic workers are significantly more likely to earn low wages than white men, according to new research by Oxfam.

A report from the organization released Monday found that 31.9 percent of the U.S. workforce makes sub-$15 an hour wages, with broad racial, gender and geographic disparities that closely correlate to state-level policies.

Nationally, the report found that 40 percent of working women earn less than $15 an hour, compared to 25 percent of men in the workforce.

Racial and ethnic disparities are similarly striking: 26 percent of white workers make less than $15 an hour, compared to 46 percent of Hispanic workers and 47 percent of Black workers.

More than half of all working women of color make less than $15 an hour, according to the report.

Geographic differences are largely determined by state-level labor laws, as places that have enacted high minimum wage laws consistently have the lowest proportion of workers earning below-$15 wages.

Washington, D.C., the only jurisdiction whose minimum wage currently tops $15 an hour, leads in all categories, with only 9 percent of its workforce earning under $15, including 13 percent of Black workers and 15 percent of Hispanic workers.

While only 12 percent of women in the District of Columbia make less than $15 an hour, 17 percent of working women of color earn salaries below that benchmark.

Washington state and California round out the top three in all categories; Washington’s minimum wage is currently $13.69 per hour, and California’s is $13, according to the Department of Labor.

The jurisdiction with the highest number of low-earning workers is Puerto Rico, where 76 percent of all workers make less than $15 an hour.

A majority of Puerto Rican workers are Hispanic, although those who identify as white are less likely to earn below-$15 wages; nearly 67 percent of white Puerto Ricans still make less than $15 an hour.

While the Caribbean territory does not have large disparities in sub-$15 wages for Hispanics and women, a whopping 92 percent of Black Puerto Ricans and 89 percent of Indigenous Puerto Ricans earn less than $15 an hour.

Puerto Rico is joined at the bottom of the list by two of the poorest states in the union, Mississippi, where 45 percent of all workers make less than $15 an hour, and New Mexico, where 44 percent of workers fail to meet that benchmark.

Mississippi, which has no statewide minimum wage and adheres to the federal $7.25 per hour rate, also comes in second-to-last in nearly all categories of wage inequality measured by Oxfam.

While all Mississippians are more likely to make under $15, 55 percent of women in the state’s workforce earn less, as do 63 percent of Black workers in the state, and 70 percent of working women of color.

Mississippi has a relatively small Hispanic workforce, of whom 59 percent earn less than $15 an hour.

In absolute terms, Texas has the largest workforce earning less than $15, with nearly 5.7 million workers below the benchmark. In Florida, nearly 4.5 million workers earn less than $15 an hour.

California, the country’s most populous state, has 3.4 million workers who earn less than $15, and a handful of states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina each have around 2 million workers at a below-$15 salary level.

The Oxfam report advocates for the Raise the Wage Act, a bill proposed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) last year that would increase the federal minimum wage, including for tipped workers.

The bill currently has 201 Democratic sponsors in the House.

The Oxfam report also rebuts a common argument against raising the minimum wage, that a low one allows teenage workers access to on-the-job training.

According to the report, 89 percent of U.S. workers earning less than $15 an hour are at least 20 years old, and 19 percent of workers over age 55 earn less than $15 an hour.

The report also found that 11.2 million single working parents, 57 percent of that demographic, earn less than $15 an hour.

Tags $15 minimum wage Bobby Scott Fight for $15 Minimum wage Oxfam Raise the Wage Act
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