Economic snapshot | Wages Incomes and Wealth

Women much more likely to earn poverty-level wages

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Women are much more likely to earn poverty-level wages than men. The figure below, from The State of Working America, 12th Edition, shows that 32.0 percent of women earned poverty-level wages or less in 2011, significantly more than the 24.3 percent of men who did. Overall, 28.0 percent of workers, more than one in every four, earned poverty-level wages in 2011.

The “poverty-level wage” is the hourly wage that a full-time, year-round worker must earn to sustain a family of four at the official poverty threshold. In 2011, the poverty-level wage was $11.06 (in 2011 dollars) per hour, based on the official poverty threshold for a family of four of $23,010. This poverty wage is roughly equal to two-thirds of the median hourly wage.

Looking back at the longer term trend, the share of women earning poverty-level wages fell dramatically from 48.0 percent in 1973 to roughly 30 percent in 2000 and was relatively stable thereafter until the rise during the recent recessionary years, when it grew for men as well. The story is different for men, however. They increasingly fell into low-wage work in the 1980s, a trend that was reversed in the late 1990s wage boom. But after the increase of the last few years, the share of men in low-wage work, at 24.3 percent in 2011, is substantially greater than in 1973, when just 17.4 percent of men earned low wages.


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