42 percent of working single parents in the U.S. earn less than $17 an hour, new Oxfam study shows


New data from Oxfam highlights the crisis of low wages in the U.S., where over 39 million workers—nearly one in four—earn low wages

Today, Oxfam, the global organization fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice, released new research on the low wage workforce in the United States, finding that 23 percent of U.S. workers currently earn low wages (less than $17 an hour), with the data revealing even deeper disparities along lines of race and gender.

Working single parents bear a particular burden in the crisis of low wages, with a shocking 42 percent earning less than $17 an hour, compared to only 12 percent of partnered parents. Women of color are also disproportionately represented in the low wage workforce: 40 percent of Latina women, 35 percent of Black women, and 20 percent of Asian women earn low wages. This data reflects historic trends of occupational segregation that confirms long-standing patterns of gendered and racialized wage discrepancies.

The report, which also features an interactive map and state scorecards, underscores the urgent need for the federal government to address working poverty and raise the minimum wage—a stagnant wage floor that has not increased beyond $7.25 for the last 15 years.

“Low wage workers, who are disproportionately women of color, are the backbone of our economy. The least this country can do is pay them wages that cover basic necessities—something the current federal minimum wage does not do, regardless of where in the U.S. you live,” said Dr. Kaitlyn Henderson, report author and senior researcher at Oxfam America. “We’re talking about the childcare and domestic workers who care for our families, and the agricultural workers who help put food on our tables. But decades of occupational segregation have meant these jobs that employ majority women, immigrants, or people of color have been systemically underpaid and undervalued. This needs to change.”

“No person working full-time in America should be living in poverty. The Raise the Wage Act will increase the pay and standard of living for millions of workers across this country. Raising the minimum wage is good for workers, good for businesses, and good for the economy. When we put money in the pockets of American workers, they will spend that money in their communities,” said Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Beyond demographic characteristics, geographic location also has a substantial influence on wage discrepancies in the U.S. States that steadily and annually increase their minimum wages have the lowest proportion of workers earning less than $17 an hour, according to Oxfam’s data. This reality is especially stark as 20 states have failed to lift their minimum wages above the federal wage floor of $7.25 an hour. The state with the highest minimum wage in the country, the District of Columbia, also has the lowest proportion of low wage workers, with 8 percent of the workforce earning less than $17 an hour. By contrast, Mississippi has one of the highest proportions of low wage workers in the country—33.9 percent of its workforce—and has retained the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Oxfam’s report also includes new data on the detrimental impacts of federal minimum wage exemptions that continue to trap many workers in egregiously low wages. The federal subminimum tipped wage—which assumes patrons will tip enough to make up the difference between the subminimum and standard minimum wage—has been stuck at $2.13 for over 30 years. As a result, an alarming 53 percent of tipped wage workers earn less than $17 an hour, compared to 20 percent of the non-tipped wage workforce.

Oxfam is calling on Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act to raise the federal minimum wage and eliminate exclusions in national minimum wage laws, including subminimum wages for tipped workers, youth, and workers with disabilities. At the state and local level, Oxfam urges governments to implement their own improved minimum wage laws that not only raise wages, but also end exemptions, creating one wage floor for all workers.

Oxfam is a global organization that fights inequality to end poverty and injustice. We offer lifesaving support in times of crisis and advocate for economic justice, gender equality, and climate action. We demand equal rights and equal treatment so that everyone can thrive, not just survive. The future is equal. Join us at oxfamamerica.org.


Notes to editors:

Download the full report, “The Crisis of Low Wages, 2024,” here.

Explore the interactive map and state scorecards here.

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