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Census Documents Women’s Low Wages:
How Much Does America Really Value Care Work?
AUSTIN TX, MARCH 15, 2016: By now everyone knows that women are paid less than men. But the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal which women workers earn the lowest wages of all. Two of the lowest paid job categories in the American economy are “care workers”: child care workers and personal care aides, the bulk of whom are female.
In a new report, “It’s Women’s History Month: Why is pay so low in care work?”, for the Council on Contemporary Families, New York University sociologist Paula England explains what this finding means about how little we value women’s traditional care work, whether performed for free at home or for peanuts outside the home.
POORLY PAID CAREWORKING WOMEN–BY THE NUMBERS: England reports, “Women who were child care workers in 2014 had median earnings of only $20,452 for the year. If we assume that means 50 weeks a year and 40 hours per week, those child care workers made just $10.22/hour. Personal care aides earned $21,459 a year. Many food service workers have similarly low salaries.” Just how low is that? Almost half of childcare and home care workers rely on food stamps or other forms of assistance to get by.
Part of why care work pays badly is because it is a job predominantly filled by women, which leads employers to set wages lower (even for the relatively few men who do it). As CCF Director of Research Stephanie Coontz points out, we pay the largely male workforce that cares for our lawns more than the largely female workforce that cares for our children, our elderly, and our disabled.
But England argues that there is another factor at work here: “We are so used to women providing care for their families out of love and duty that it seems only ‘natural’ that care will always be available, and we won’t have to pay much if anything for it.”
“During Women’s History Month, maybe we should put our money where our mouths are and start rewarding the largely female workforce that provides childcare for the rest of American’s working families. Taking care of our nation’s children is a critically important job. It ought not to be so low-paid that the people who do it have to turn to food stamps to get by,” England concludes.
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Paula England is a Professor of Sociology at New York University.
CCF BRIEF: “It’s Women’s History Month: Why is pay so low in care work?”
The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions.
The Council helps keep journalists informed of notable work on family-related issues via the CCF Network. To join the CCF Network, or for further media assistance, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at email@example.com, cell 360-556-9223.
March 15, 2016