Women Are the Biggest Losers from Failure to Raise Minimum Wage


Written by David Madland, Nick Bunker

The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is far too low. A full-time worker earning the minimum wage makes just $15,080 per year, below the poverty line for a family of three. From 1968 to 2010, incomes for the top 1 percent of earners increased by 110 percent, but the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today.

Women are disproportionately harmed by a low minimum wage because women—and especially women of color—are much more likely hold low-wage jobs than men. The typical woman earns 77 cents for every dollar the typical man does, and the fact that women are more likely to be minimum-wage earners than men contributes to that disparity. This gap is especially distressing now that two-thirds of mothers are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families.

In 2011 more than 62 percent of minimum-wage workers were women compared to just 38 percent of male minimum-wage workers. Slightly more than 2.5 million women earn the minimum wage or less, while approximately 1.5 million men do. This imbalance is even more drastic once you consider that women were just 46.9 percent of all employed workers in 2011.

Female workers earning the minimum wage are also disproportionately workers of color. African American women were 15.8 percent of female workers making the minimum wage in 2011 compared to 12.3 percent of all employed workers. Similarly, Hispanic women were 16.5 percent of female minimum wage earners but were only 12.5 percent of employed workers.

Women also disproportionately earn the subminimum wage for tipped workers such as waitresses and bartenders: Sixty-six percent of workers earning the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 were women in 2010, according to analysis by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Moreover, the federal tipped minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 1991.

Finally, women earning the minimum wage are also overwhelmingly adults—not teenagers. More than 76 percent of women earning the minimum wage are 20 years old or older. In fact, 40 percent of female minimum-wage earners are over the age of 30.

In short, the minimum wage is not just a worker policy—it is also a woman’s policy.

Minimum wage workers are more likely to be women

Who would be affected by a minimum wage hike?

A hike in the minimum wage wouldn’t only affect those who earn the minimum wage. Certainly, those who earn between the current minimum wage and the new minimum wage would be directly affected and see their wages increase. But workers earning near the new minimum wage would also see an indirect increase due to what economists call a “spillover effect.”

The following chart describes the workers who would have been affected by increasing the minimum wage to $9.80 an hour, as proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in his Rebuild America Act. More than 55 percent of workers affected by the minimum wage hike would be women. About 57 percent of those directly affected and 51.3 percent of those indirectly affected by the increase would be women. Similarly, women of color would be especially affected by the increase: Sixteen percent of affected female workers would be African American, while 19.3 percent would be Hispanic. The vast majority of women who would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage are also adults. More than 88 percent of female workers who would see a wage increase are older than 20. Nearly 55 percent of affected female workers would be older than 30, and 39 percent would be above the age of 40.

An increase in the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit female workers

Raising the minimum wage would give a needed boost to the incomes of low-wage women. This one move alone certainly wouldn’t solve all of the inequities women face in the labor market, but it would be a step in the right direction.

The hard work done by employees in low-wage jobs should be rewarded adequately. Improving pay for these workers—both the women and men—is vital for rebuilding the middle class and creating an economy that works for all of us.

This post was originally published by the Center for American Progress.


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A Primer for Men on Women’s Rights

Even Six-Figure Salaries Don’t Attract Men to Care Work

Strong Unions and Labor Laws Protect Foxconn Factory Workers in Brazil


First photo: uusc4all/flickr; second photo: spike55151/flickr


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

a             y m.
g d c5 years ago

incredibel that people still do not believe these facts!!!

ii q.
g d c5 years ago


Suzy D.
Reverend Suzy D5 years ago

Something has to change ! Politicians, corporate managers, and, much as we love them, sports and movie stars. They could all take a chunk out of their pay and still have a comfortable lifestyle. This would help boost the income of minimum wage earners, such as cleaners, nurses aides and teaching assistants. They all do essential work and they should be rewarded for it !

Dresia Vaughn
Dresia Vaughn5 years ago

OK, now you've got my attention. Tierney G, I admire what you wrote, (the rapture is coming) because it is truly on it's way. Things will get worst because it's written in the Bible, Matthew chap 24. Now, Women bare children, women clean, wash, iron, homework, parks, getting up all hours of the night to comfort a crying baby, raise the children literally in most families by themselves, women have so much responsiblities and then work a full day too? why can't they get the same wages. They deserve the same wages. Stop being racist agains women and give them what is due, respect and fair pay.

Christine C.
Chandra C5 years ago


Tiffany B.
Tiffany B5 years ago

That wooden sign is a great idea!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Great article thanks for sharing

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


jo Howard
jo Howard5 years ago

America's minimum wage law is the Nation’s biggest joke ever, not only for women but for everyone. Basically it is outrageously and shamefully set too low, and too it is seldom, if ever, actually policed or enforced. But, I suppose it is better than having no minimum wage law on the books at all.