“Underpaid And Overloaded”: Struggles Of Low-Wage Women Exposed

Dyann Jaggers has been a federal contract cook for 25 years. Though the work is hard and she’s about to turn 66, she feels that she can’t retire. Her finances just won’t allow her to rest.

“I am a mother and a grandmother, and I am struggling,” she told people attending a briefing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

She laid out the dollars-and-cents facts: In 1985, she earned $9.00 an hour. Today, she earns $12.00. In a quarter of a century, Jaggers’s wage has only increased by three dollars. (In inflation-adjusted terms, however, she’s received a 40 percent pay cut; she’s being paid $5.47 in 1985 dollars.)

As a single mother abandoned by an abusive past husband, Jaggers is supporting not only herself, but also two of her grandsons, who cannot afford to attend college.

She cannot make ends meet – even with a full-time job. Jaggers wants to retire, but with a predicted Social Security benefit of only $625 every month, she knows that she needs to keep working – full time.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) on Wednesday hosted a briefing on the release of their new report, “Underpaid and Overloaded: Women in Low-Wage Jobs”. Dyann Jaggers was one of three women workers who shared their stories at the briefing. The persisting issue of discrimination against women in the workplace is not only reflected in the statistics in the report, but also in the heart-wrenching stories like the one Diane shared with attendees.

The report highlights key statistics about the reality for working women in America today:

  • “Women make up two-thirds of the nearly 20 million workers in the low-wage workforce–though they make up less than half of all workers”
  • Even in low-wage jobs that typically pay $10.10 per hour or less, women working full time, year-round face a 13 percent wage gap–and the gap is even larger for African-American and Hispanic women when compared to white, non-Hispanic men. “The finding that in this day and age, women need a bachelor’s degree to avoid being overrepresented in low-wage jobs—while men only need to finish high school—is startling,” the report said.

The report says that addressing these inequities requires several measures, starting with raising the minimum and tipped minimum wages, and taking other steps to improve women’s economic security through enhancing the Earned Income Tax Credit and assuring access to affordable health insurance, nutrition and housing assistance, child care, education and reproductive health care. The report also calls for “strengthening and enforcing protections against all forms of employment discrimination,” ensuring paid sick days and paid family leave, and “strengthening opportunities for collective action,” either through unions or worker justice organizations.

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