“Raising minimum wage is a women’s issue,” emphasized Liz Shuler during the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization’s (AFL-CIO) briefing on Working Women and the Minimum Wage on April 3rd. Shuler, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, and a number of AFL-CIO representatives gathered at AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington D.C. to discuss how raising the minimum wage improves the condition of women workers in the U.S., especially for those who are single-mothers and/or women of color. Here are five things you should know about women and the minimum wage crisis.
1. Most minimum wage workers are not sixteen year-olds working at McDonald’s
When you think of minimum wage workers, what images come to mind? Conventional depictions of minimum wage jobs imply that teenagers flipping burgers in fast-food restaurants represent the majority of minimum wage worker populations when, in reality, almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. AFL-CIO representatives stressed that images that suggest teenagers working at their first job make up the minimum wage population are outdated and distort the urgency of the economic issues at hand.
Child-care workers, domestic workers, assisted living workers, and restaurant employees are a few examples of the real body of laborers who comprise the minimum wage population. Moreover, twenty-two percent of minimum wage workers are women of color, even though women of color only make up sixteen percent of workers overall. Specifically, the condition of workers in tipped occupations, such as servers in restaurants, is pretty dire given that the federal minimum wage for these positions is $2.13 per hour and nearly three-quarters of workers in these occupations are women. Economic Policy Institute Director of Health Policy Research Elise Gould explained at the AFL-CIO briefing that minimum wage workers are more educated and qualified but that the minimum wage does not reflect this trend.
2. Raising the minimum wage helps the economy
AFL-CIO Deputy Chief of Staff Thea Lee asserted that economic inequality hinders a healthy economy because these financial disparities keep the economy at large from growing. Furthermore, Lee clarified that increasing the minimum wage puts more money in people’s pockets so that they can spend more money, thereby stimulating the economy. Demonstrating how improving the condition of women workers improves U.S. economy in the long run, Lee stated, “Children are being hurt as well by being forced to grow up in poverty, which hurts our economic future.” Thirty-one percent of women workers who would benefit from an increase of the minimum wage are parents of children. No doubt, raising the minimum wage would make an incredible difference in the lives of women and families in the U.S.
3. WOC and trans women are disproportionately burdened by economic inequality and stand to gain a lot from fair wages
Carmen Berkley, AFL-CIO Civil, Human & Women’s Rights Department Director highlighted how raising the minimum wage specifically will affect more marginalized groups. Berkley advocated that increasing the minimum wage will provide more economic opportunities for women of color and trans women. Berkley emphasized that because fifty three percent of Black women and forty percent of Latina women are the breadwinners of their households, Black and Latin@ communities have much to gain from the additional economic stability that a higher minimum wage will assure. Likewise, trans women, who often face further discrimination, need better financial options. Berkley stated that fifteen percent of trans people earn less than $10,000 a year, which, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, is well below the poverty line.
4. Fighting to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 is only the first step
The AFL-CIO endorses an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, even though Berkley admitted that “for many women of color and LGBT people, $10.10 is hardly enough.” AFL-CIO representatives agreed, however, that $10.10 is a step in the right direction, though by no means a final solution. They are fighting for a living wage that will allow people to put food on the table and to educate their children, and stress that anything lower than $10.10 an hour is not good enough. Lee actually brought up the fact that the federal minimum wage was healthier in the 1960s (even accounting for inflation) and that the U.S. has allowed the wage to lose value every year until it has become a problem. AFL-CIO representatives speculated that had the value of the federal minimum wage continued to grow, low wage employees would be paid $15 to $19 an hour! Fortunately, there is a positive to this question of fair wages. Lee indicated that the minimum wage battle has created a need for state and local initiatives that empower workers with bargaining power and help to forge community alliances.
5. Blame the employers, not the employees
Although the minimum wage campaigns focus on low wage workers, AFL-CIO representatives asserted that the burden is not on minimum wage workers to make their lives better. They explained that arguments that suggest that minimum wage workers should do more for themselves ignore that most people who comprise this population do what they can, even if that means working three to five jobs. Furthermore, the representatives maintained that evidence proves that minimum wage doesn’t burden employers the way that some right-wing lawmakers say that it does. The panelist of AFL-CIO members contended that employers who don’t pay workers decent wages really burden tax payers because they force minimum wage workers to seek government assistance. By investing more in their workers, employers attract qualified, dedicated, and healthier workers. The AFL-CIO and other minimum wage advocates are asking employers only to pay what’s fair.
At the heart of this campaign for fair wages is a call for solidarity. “Sectioning ourselves off isn’t working,” Berkley argued. The AFL-CIO champions labor movements aligning with movements for undocumented workers, various women of color communities advocating for each other, and cis women and trans women collaborating with one another. “It’s not okay for white women to earn 77% [of white men’s wages], and [for] Black women to earn 64% and [for] Latina women to earn 54%,” concluded Berkley. “We all need to earn 100%.”
Thanks for writing this, Helen. As a Canadian, it boggles my mind to see how inconsistent minimum wages are, and how disgustingly low certain sectors are paid – less than $3/hour for being a server??? Really??? Things like that make me wonder if the non-tipping system would be better since it guarantees servers a solid wage without having to rely on customers to pay your living.
15% of trans and gender nonconforming people earn less than 10k/year, and another 12% earn 10k-20k (which means that many, though not all, of them are under the poverty line too). That is despite the fact that trans and gender nonconforming people are better-educated than the population in general, with 47% having at least a bachelor’s degree (compared with 27% of the population overall) and 87% having at least some college (compared with 55% of the population overall). The source on that is the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, and if you have not read it yet, you should.
Thanks for writing about this issue. It’s such an important one for so many people.
I never got the “But minimum wage workers are teenagers!” argument anyway. Either they’re teenagers who are working to help support their families, in which case they’re like any other worker, or their income is not needed and they’re working for extra cash, in which case I’m completely fine with deprioritizing their needs relative to those of people who do need their income.
For those of us working in retail/service type jobs, is anyone else nervous about how this is going to play out? Because I am absolutely sure that as a part time employee, if my boss has to pay me 10.10 an hour, my hours will be cut in half or my position will be cut entirely. I would rather make 7 dollars an hour than not have that job…
I would like to believe that raising the minimum wage would help, but typically every time the government steps in to the market things go completely wrong. If minimum wage were to be raised many workers would loose their jobs because companies wouldn’t want to pay more than they were previously paying.
for example, in New York they made a ceiling cap on how much a one bedroom apartment could be in order for lower income people to afford housing. This plan issued by the government ended up failing because a) companies would make the apartment a luxury flat; thus not being affected by the law,or B) they would change the one bedroom apartments into businesses and again not being affected by the new law. The law ultimately left New York with a shortage of affordable one bedroom apartments.
I’d love the min wage to be increased, but lets face it, prices will inevitably rise and people will get fired.
Latin women and how they earn pretty much half of what white guys make drives me up a fucking wall. I mean, it’s not even just a minimum wage issue, it’s also often an immigration/education/civil rights/healthcare issue, too, and makes me want to slap something. I mean, it’s bad enough for white women to earn 70% of white guys but FIFTY FUCKING PERCENT? These women ARE breadwinners for their children and/or working as much as their husbands to provide for their families and it’s basically indentured servitude. When my dad worked in Tennessee, because he was fluent in Spanish and didn’t deny Medicaid he was one of the only doctors that served the migrant community in the area and there were teenage girls that walked miles in the heat with their toddler to see him and pay him in baked goods or something because they just didn’t have the money/insurance to pay him. It’s the 21st century. That should not fucking be happening.
I understand the fear people have that increasing the minimum wage will cause people to lose their jobs but low income workers who have wage increases are far more likely to spend that extra money rather than save it like many higher income people may. This stimulus would benefit many of the companies that are paying minimum wage, thereby helping to offset the increased wages. As somebody who makes the minimum wage while working as a substitute teacher this is so important to me and the idea that it will hurt employment rather than help it is a common misconception but not one supported by most economists.