By Mary Babic and Barbara Gault
The recent campaign trained a spotlight on the economic anxiety that plagues millions of workers who have seen their wages steadily erode. The surprising reality is that the majority of these workers are women, who endure low wages, scant benefits and often arduous conditions.
For every woman battling bias to get their rightful place in a top job or crack yet another glass ceiling in America today, there are tens of thousands of low-wage women workers trying to move up in a labor market that undervalues traditionally “female” labor. Women, and especially women of color, who support themselves and their families through low-wage work are clustered into the lowest-paying, lowest-quality jobs.
Take teacher assistants, 89 percent of whom are women. Over a quarter of the women in this field have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but the median wage for teacher assistants is $11.43. In the “men’s work” world, service station attendants are 91 percent male, have few if any educational credentials and earn $11.62 per hour.
The United States workforce remains profoundly segregated by gender. Millions of women work in jobs that are seen as “women’s work” and are in fact done disproportionately by women, such as teaching young children, cleaning, serving and caring for elders — essential jobs that, despite requiring physical skill, emotional labor and often, postsecondary education, offer workers low wages and scant benefits.