Minimum Wage

Why Minimum Wage Is A Women’s Issue

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You might’ve already heard about President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour in an effort to tie in earnings with the cost of living – something several Americans have been struggling with, especially women.

Why is the minimum wage a women’s issue? In 2012, the National Women’s Law Center posted an infographic based on Catalyst and the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, which illustrated the fact that 64 percent of minimum wage workers were women. That translates into about 1.87 million adult women (age 20 or older) who only earn the minimum wage.

“The reasons behind women’s concentration in low-wage jobs – and their relative absence at the top – are complex,” said Julie Vogtman, Senior Counsel for the Family Economic Security Program at NWLC. “A theory known as ‘devaluation,’ holds that the pay in jobs that women typically perform is lower precisely because they are dominated by women.”

Phillip N. Cohen explains ‘devaluation’ in his article ”Devaluing and Revaluing Women’s Work.” In the article, Cohen states that these low-paying jobs are labeled as ‘women’s work,’ where things like childcare aren’t exactly high-paying jobs due to cultural bias that comes from a lower social status, or the advantage some employers take on women because they’re “politically weaker.”

Vogtman went on to say that the current wage gap between men and women is largely attributed to the disproportionate representation of women in low-paying jobs.

“The typical woman working full time, year round is paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart,” she said. “That’s why a higher minimum wage is a critical step toward fair pay: raising the minimum wage will help close the wage gap because women are the majority of workers who will see their pay go up, and we would expect to see a narrower wage distribution.”

States like New Jersey have already taken major steps towards raising the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, while Maryland and New York also have plans to raise their minimum wages as well – which is good news for all women struggling on their current minimum wage salaries.

In addition to these states, Vogtman noted that California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, among several others, have proposals to raise the minimum wage as well.

“Some of these states are among those that have minimum wages above the federal level, but lawmakers are recognizing that even $8.00 or $8.25 an hour is not enough for workers to meet their basic needs,” said Vogtman. “In Massachusetts, for example, the legislature is considering a bill to raise the minimum wage to $11.00 per hour.”

It’s unclear how many of these proposals will pass in 2013, but so far it looks like several states are in support of raising wages, which will not only help female minimum and low-wage earners, but their families as well.

“Minimum wage and low-wage jobs make it harder for women to support their families, even as women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families, “ said Vogtman.

Though raising the minimum wage is a crucial first step to help those who are in or just above the poverty line, $9 an hour won’t be enough to sustain families of three or more.

“Discrimination, harassment, wage theft, and unpredictable and nontraditional schedules often accompany minimum wage and low-wage work,” said Vogtman. Addressing the job quality problems that low-wage and minimum-wage workers have been facing since the recession should also be taken into account towards the needs of the women who hold the majority of these jobs if we want to take the minimum wage issue seriously.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Belen Chacon

Belen is a journalism graduate student at California State University, Northridge. She spends her time interning wherever she can and tweeting her heart out. You can follow her @journobelen.

5 comments

  1. Ms. Chaco, have you forgotten the motto of this site? “Every job is temporary.” The point of entry-level jobs (which includes minimum-wage positions) is to help people (men, women, boys, and girls) **enter** the workforce or a new career field. They’re not meant to be the kind of jobs one depends on to support a family!

    So, yes, it’s a women’s issue: The higher the minimum wage, the fewer such jobs can be offered, and the fewer opportunities for women to break into the workforce and get better jobs.

  2. Michael, it’s even worse for some subgroups: for example, young black males without a high school diploma have about 5% employment. You read that right: 95% of them don’t have a job.

    With no education and (apparently) little or no job skills, how are they going to provide enough value to an employer to justify $10 or $15 an hour, if they can’t provide enough value to justify $7.25 an hour?

  3. Costco is a huge corporation, their starting wage is $11/ hour. I am a small business owner, I start my employees off at $10/ hour. It can be done!

    If the concern is how many employees a business needs: maximize the productivity of the people with better training and streamlied processes. Oh, wait, most places already do that and still pay minimum wages.

    The pay difference between the first level employees at certain retailers and the first or second level of management starts at about $30,000 a year, many times much more than that. That is not even including the upper management who take home well over $100,000 (and on up depending on the level in the corporation).

    Employees that make $8/ hour are taking home less than $20,000 / year, that is if they are scheduled a full 40 hours a week and many times they are not.

    This shouldn’t even be an argument. Pay people more.

  4. Vogtman sounds like she is espousing her personal ideology, not fact based economics. Low skilled jobs pay less because of supply and demand, not because of discrimination. This is a total myth perpetuated by people who want equality of outcomes in the marketplace. Does Burger King management think, “wow, I hate young people, minorities and women, so I intend to pay them less”? Nope. Burger King knows that charging $26 for a Whopper is not likely to sell in the marketplace so they don’t pay people $20 an hour. Same is true with child care and other lower wage jobs.

    Minimum wage laws also hurt people, just as much as they help. If Burger King allocates a total of $50 an hour for wages per day, a $10 minimum wage means they hire 5 people. At $5 per hour, they hire 10. Simple math. So the question is: should 5 people get double the wage, so that 5 other people get zero? Perhaps minimum wage laws explain the 30% unemployment rate among young blacks.

    The answer for everybody is to upgrade your skills. We have a nursing shortage in the US, a position that pays in the $60,000 to $90,000 range, depending on geography and the functional area of healthcare in which one works. Certainly not minimum wage. The choice is ours, individually. High skills or low skills. Please choose.

  5. Vogtman sounds like she is espousing her personal ideology, not fact based economics. Low skilled jobs pay less because of supply and demand, not because of discrimination. This is a total myth perpetuated by people who want equality of outcomes in the marketplace. Does Burger King management think, “wow, I hate young people, minorities and women, so I intend to pay them less”? Nope. Burger King knows that charging $26 for a Whopper is not likely to sell in the marketplace so they don’t pay people $20 an hour. Same is true with child care and other lower wage jobs.

    Minimum wage laws also hurt people, just as much as they help. If Burger King allocates a total of $50 an hour for wages per day, a $10 minimum wage means they hire 5 people. At $5 per hour, they hire 10. Simple math. So the question is: should 5 people get double the wage, so that 5 other people get zero? Perhaps minimum wage laws explain the 30% unemployment rate among young blacks.

    The answer for everybody is to upgrade your skills. We have a nursing shortage in the US, a position that pays in the $60,000 to $90,000 range, depending on geography and the functional area of healthcare in which one works. Certainly not minimum wage. The choice is ours, individually. High skills or low skills. Please choose.

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