Stark reality for those in ‘women’s work’ jobs
To uncover the challenges facing working women in the US, Oxfam recently commissioned the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) to research nine indicators of low-wage women’s work. Oxfam published an executive summary of the full report: Undervalued and Underpaid in America: The Deck Is Stacked against Millions of Working Women.
While the findings are stark, and disturbing, they are not surprising. We defined “low-wage women’s” jobs as meeting four criteria: most workers are women; the median wage is under $15 an hour; at least 100,000 women do the job; and the number of jobs will grow in the next 20 years.
We found 22 jobs that match, across seven loosely defined sectors. Of the 23.5 million workers in these jobs, 81 percent are women (19 million). They account for more than a quarter of all women’s employment, and 64 percent of women’s low-wage employment. Among the jobs: 3 million workers in early childhood care and education, 93 percent women; 4.5 million workers in health care support, 88 percent women; 3.5 million workers in food preparation and serving, almost two-thirds women.
Most of these jobs involved tasks historically considered “women’s work.” These workers are cooking, cleaning, serving, caring for people (children, the elderly, and the infirm), and playing support roles in offices and businesses.
Low-wage women’s work pays less than mixed-sex or traditionally male low-wage jobs, even when the women’s jobs are very similar in requirements for education, skills, stamina, and hours; they may even demand higher education requirements, licenses, or certifications.
In the “women’s work” job of teacher assistants (89 percent women), more than a quarter of the women have a bachelor’s or master’s degree; the median wage is $11.43. In the “men’s work” world, service station attendants (91 percent male) have few if any educational credentials, and earn $11.62 per hour. Janitors, two-thirds of whom are men, make $12.13 per hour, while maids and housekeepers, nearly nine in 10 of whom are women, make $9.94 per hour.
The findings confirm Oxfam’s ongoing research into the economic and social challenges facing low-wage workers in the US today. In general, over the past few decades, the economy has been creating disproportionately more low-wage jobs. Wages are stagnating, and demands on workers are increasing. Jobs in low-wage women’s work have been growing especially rapidly; we found that some jobs skyrocketed in the period from 1994 to 2014.
This trend is fueling the engine of inequality in the US. During the same period, the very rich have seen an astronomical increase in income. As this divide has grown, the wealthiest people and companies have gained disproportionate power in our economy and our political system; the rest of us have seen our access to power and influence dwindle.