Last night in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama pushed for an increase in the federal minimum wage, stating, “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” The president proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour, with additional future raises based on increases in the cost of living. As the president said last night, “This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.”
With the cultural shift of women comprising an increasing share of the U.S. workforce, raising the minimum wage is an especially important policy step to improve the lives and livelihood of women and their families. Most minimum-wage workers are women, and women are two-thirds of our country’s breadwinners or co-breadwinners.
In 2012 about 4.2 million workers—2.8 million of whom were women—earned the minimum wage or less, according to a CAP analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That means that more than 64 percent of minimum-wage workers are women, compared to just 36 percent of male minimum-wage workers.
An increase in the federal minimum wage could translate into real dollars for groceries, gas, and school supplies for millions of the men and women who are earning hourly wages.
Roughly 8.9 million women who earn hourly wages would see their earnings directly increased by a $9 minimum wage, and 4.2 million others would have their wages hiked because of the “spillover effect” of such an increase.
American families depend on these wages. Our analysis shows that women earning the minimum wage are also overwhelmingly adults—not teenagers. Fully 79 percent of women earning the minimum wage are age 20 or older. Just less than 40 percent of female minimum-wage earners are over the age of 30.
While women are the majority of minimum-wage workers, they are also just a small minority of those workers who have done exceedingly well in the past few decades. Only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 chief executive officers are women, according to data from Catalyst.
The difference in the fate of CEOs and minimum-wage workers is stark: From 1978 to 2011 the average annual compensation for a CEO rose by 759 percent, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. Over that same time period, the purchasing power of the minimum wage fell by 13.5 percent, according to CAP calculations.
Our economic policy needs to reflect the reality that women are half of our workforce. Raising the minimum wage would be a step in the right direction to ensuring that women are properly compensated for their work, as it would disproportionally help low-wage female workers.
Tara McGuinness is the Senior Vice President for Communications at the Center for American Progress. David Madland is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Nick Bunker is a Research Assistant at the Center.