Why The Minimum Wage Is A Feminist Issue
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the minimum wage and whether or not it’s time to raise it. All the complaints are pretty reasonable: a person working full time at the current federal minimum wage is living below the poverty line, dependent on government assistance and unable to meaningfully support a family. That’s not acceptable, and feminists-~-since we advocate for equality for everyone-~-should probably care about that. But I think there are more specific reasons why this is another issue feminists need to care about, because it WILL impact women, in really important ways.
First and foremost, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Poverty rates for women exceed those of men in all age groups and across all racial and ethnic categories. A quarter of all women living below the poverty line are single mothers. One in eight custodial parents is a woman, and custodial parents are more likely to bear the costs of child-rearing than non-custodial parents, increasing costs for single mothers substantially.
Women’s poverty obviously needs to be a feminist issue. Women are pushed into lower-paying jobs and jobs dominated by women are in fact lower paying. Women are paid $0.77 on the dollar as compared to men, and are typically denied promotions or simply fail to apply for them. Women’s careers are impacted by pregnancy in ways that men’s careers are not. The list goes on. This is also an intersectional issue, because poor women of color face additional barriers, and African-American women are more likely to be single or functionally single due to the disproportionately high rate of incarceration of African-American men.
But I think the minimum wage itself deserves a little attention, for a couple of reasons, and that’s what I really want to talk about right now.
First, because women are more likely to end up dropping out. Women face additional pressures and barriers when it comes to higher education. Teenage pregnancy contributes significantly to a cycle of poverty primarily because it disrupts educational progress and forces young mothers into low-paying jobs. This goes for unexpected pregnancy in general, which is an issue feminists already care about. Because women are likely to have their educational or career trajectories disrupted, they are more likely to end up in low-paying service jobs reliant on the minimum wage.
Second, it’s also worth noting that women’s poverty rates rise during their child-bearing years and then drop off again during old age. It’s problematic that pregnancy and parenting of young children, which are responsibilities that primarily (or only, in the case of pregnancy) impact women.
Third, because of the aforementioned issue regarding child care. There are more single mothers than single fathers in the United States, and those single mothers pay a disproportionate cost of child rearing. Even if you factor in child support, single mothers still need to devote more time to unpaid care labor, and to other expenses not covered by child support. They have to account for things like child care during the day if they are going to work, which can be costly, troublesome, or both. The result is increased strain on single mothers living in poverty, in a way that feminists clearly need to start paying attention to.
More generally, women tend to do more unpaid care labor. Even if a woman is married, the reality is that social expectations still exist for a woman to perform care labor, and these expectations do not necessarily apply to men. The result is that more women are forced to take time off from work or make trade-offs in order to balance the need for income with the need to care for children or elderly relatives.
Fifth, women are less likely to be able to get credit and so can be forced to rely on low-paying jobs in situations in which their financial circumstances suddenly shift. Women who suddenly find themselves single after being financially dependent on a male counterpart often do not have established credit, and subsequently cannot obtain things like loans. This places them in a precarious financial position and can often force even educated women to take jobs that are lower-paying in order to try to make ends meet.
Sixth, domestic violence contributes significantly to cycles of poverty for women. It is estimated that victims of domestic violence lose approximately 8 million days of paid work collectively each year due to violence perpetrated against them by intimate partners, boyfriends, and husbands. Women living in violent situations may feel unsafe leaving their households or may be made unable to do so by their partners. Women living in violent situations suffer from higher rates of injury, poor health, job loss, and homelessness. Again, this is already an issue feminists care about-~-which means it’s time to care about how women help themselves out of these situations.
For the minimum wage to not be a living wage is a tragedy. The fact that so many Americans live in poverty and aren’t able to afford basic needs is shameful for a country that claims to lead the free world. But I think I’ve outlined here specific reasons why feminists need to care about this. Raising the minimum wage provides a mechanism to start helping millions of people, including millions of women, who are living in poverty or at risk for living in poverty across the country. A rise in the minimum wage could help improve living standards, access to transportation, food and healthcare, and provide women a mechanism to take care of themselves. Given that women are disproportionately impacted by the harms of poverty and are disproportionately at risk for facing them, I think it’s clear that this is a fight that feminists can’t afford to watch from the sidelines.