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April 19, 2015

Nearly Twice as Many Women as Men Work in Occupations with Poverty Wages

On Equal Pay Day, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released new analysis finding that women earn less than men in almost all of the 116 occupations for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes weekly full-time earnings data for both women and men. In at least 109 of the 116 occupations, including almost all of the 20 most common occupations for women, women made significantly less than men. There is only one occupation—‘health practitioner support technologists and technicians’—in which women have exactly the same median weekly earnings as men, and one—‘stock clerks and order fillers’—where women earn slightly more than men.

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to work in occupations with poverty wages. Among all occupations, 5.3 million women work in occupations that have median earnings for full-time work below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four, compared with 3.6 million men. Four of the most common occupations for women—‘cashiers,’ ‘maids and household cleaners,’ ‘waiters and waitresses,’ and ‘personal care aides,’—have median weekly earnings for women for a full week of work that are lower than 100 percent of the federal poverty threshold for a family of four, compared with only two of the most common occupations for men—‘cooks’ and ‘grounds maintenance workers.’

“Low earnings are a significant problem for both male and female full-time workers, but women are much more likely to be working full-time for poverty level wages.” said IWPR Study Director Ariane Hegewisch. “As many families depend on women’s earnings for their economic security, both women and men would benefit from higher earnings, especially in occupations that are typically done by women.”

Low earnings are particularly widespread for Hispanic women. The median earnings of Hispanic women are lower than the federal poverty threshold for a family of four in four occupational groups—‘service occupations,’ ‘sales and related occupations,’ ‘production, transportation, and material moving occupations,’ and ‘natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations’—which together employ nearly half (48.2 percent) of Hispanic women full-time workers.

Previous IWPR analysis has found that, if all working women received equal pay with men, who are of the same age, have the same level of education, work the same number of hours, and have the same urban/rural status, the poverty rate for working women in the United States would be cut by more than half, declining from 8.1 percent to 3.9 percent.

Last month, in the first release from its Status of Women in the States: 2015series, IWPR found that women in the United States would not achieve equal pay until 2058, if current trends continue. In some states, a woman born today likely will not see wage equality in her lifetime. At the current rate, five states—West Virginia, Utah, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming—will not see equal pay until the next century.

"It’s clear that the gender wage gap will not close itself on its own," said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “Policies that enforce non-discriminatory hiring and pay practices, encourage and train women for higher paying non-traditional jobs, and improve wages and benefits for jobs at the bottom would go a long way to improving the economic security of women and their families.”

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