Nearly Half of America’s Workers Struggle in Low-Wage Jobs with Scant Benefits


Shocking percentage of workers earn under $15/hour, have no sick days

Oxfam America and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) call on Congress to raise the minimum wage as they release new startling findings that show nearly half of America’s workers earning under $15/hour. Minorities and women could especially benefit from a raise in the minimum wage, as 53 percent of African American workers, and 60 percent of Hispanic workers, earn under $15 per hour, according to the research. In 29 states, more than half of working women do.

The new report, entitled Few Rewards and released today, is accompanied by an interactive website that illustrates the struggles of millions of hardworking low-wage workers across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The website features a series of maps which show concentrations of low-wage populations in each state, sliced by gender and race, across wages from $10 to $15 an hour. The maps also highlight the concentrations of workers not receiving paid sick days; who will gain from the recent expansion of overtime eligibility; and who would benefit from expanding access to the EITC.

“It is shocking that in our country today, nearly one in every three workers earns less than $12 an hour, and nearly one in two earns under $15 an hour,” said Jeffrey Buchanan, Senior Domestic Policy Advisor, Oxfam America. “The rules are rigged against low-wage workers–but it’s not just wages. Almost half of all private sector employees do not have one single sick day. Over 80 percent of low-wage workers have no access to earned sick time.”

Worse, Congress is attacking new rules to ensure millions of low and modest income workers who work more than 40 hours a week get overtime pay. And the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) fails to reach many of the lowest paid workers, including young adults and workers without children.

“Over the last forty years, the reality of low-wage work in America has shifted dramatically, and more people than ever are working in jobs that pay too little and offer too few benefits” said David Cooper, Senior Economic Analyst, Deputy Director of Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN), Economic Policy Institute. “The reason America’s prosperity in recent decades hasn’t benefited the vast majority is because those with the most wealth and power have enacted policies that exacerbate inequality. We can counter these efforts with policies—such as raising the minimum wage—that help ensure America’s prosperity is broadly shared.”

“We pay our employees living wages because it benefits our business and our workforce,” said Karen Archipley, Co-CEO, Archi's Acres and award winning veteran small business owner. “Paying fair wages results in increased productivity, low turnover and excellent customer service--a trifecta of success for any business. We are pleased that California showed leadership in passing a gradual raise in the minimum wage from $10 to $15, but the rest of the country needs a raise, too. Increasing the very low federal minimum wage to at least $12 by 2020 will stoke consumer demand--benefitting businesses and the economy nationwide."

“While many people think low-wage workers are teenagers, the reality is that nearly three in four are over 25—and 40 percent are over age 40,” said Andre Butler, banquet server from Philadelphia. “I’m 50 years old and I struggle to survive on just $10 an hour, working only about 25-30 hours a week. I serve nice, catered meals to people, but I can barely put food on the table for myself and my family.”

Many low-wage workers are also parents, according to the research. In fact, two in every five children in America live in households with at least one parent earning under $15 an hour.

Oxfam America and EPI put forward an agenda of four policy proposals which would provide substantial gains for low-wage workers: raising the federal minimum wage, providing access to earned sick leave, protecting new rules for overtime pay for millions of workers, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

“Sadly, the US is at the bottom of the heap of rich countries when it comes wages and benefits: we have the highest percentages of low wage workers, and the lowest number of required paid sick days,” said Buchanan. “We need to do better by our low-wage workers and their families. Not only could these changes benefit millions of people, but they could bolster incomes and purchasing power to help our economy as a whole to thrive.”

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For more information, contact:

Laura Rusu
Former Associate Director of Media and Public Relations
Washington, DC
Cell: (202) 459-3739
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