Nearly a third of the nation’s working population earn less than $15 an hour, study finds

Low wages are seen as one of the reasons long-term care employers struggle to attract and retain workers, especially for lower-level positions – for example, certified practical nurses or wards catering – where workers sometimes earn less than $15 an hour. And the industry is not alone.

A new study from Boston-based Oxfam America finds that 51.9 million workers, or 31.9 percent of the national workforce, earn less than $15 an hour.

“I would say direct social workers exemplify the findings and recommendations of this report,” said Kezia Scales, director of policy research at PHI. The McKnight Business Daily. “Direct care workers are overwhelmingly women of color and earn a median wage of just $13.56 an hour, an amount that has barely increased over the past decade (adjusting inflation).

Scales said he believes raising the federal minimum wage would benefit a significant portion of that workforce. She cited a 2019 study that found three-quarters of all nursing home nursing assistants would earn more than $3 more per hour under a $15/hour minimum wage law.

“We need to think beyond minimum wage for direct care workers. We need to think ambitiously about how to set competitive salaries, so we can recruit and retain more direct care workers to meet ever-increasing demand,” Scales said.

Millions of low-wage workers are parents trying to raise children on low wages, Oxfam America has found. Among working single parents, 57% (11.2 million people) earn less than $15 an hour, according to the group.

According to research, women are more likely than men to earn less than $15 per hour. Forty percent of women earn less than this amount, compared to 25% of men. Race also plays a role. Although 26% of white workers earn less than $15 an hour, 46% of Hispanic/Latin workers do, and 47% of black workers earn less than $15.

And it’s not mostly teenagers who work in low-paying jobs. The study shows that 89% of workers earning $15 or less per hour are 20 years of age or older.

“Just 30 years ago, the average pay gap between CEOs and workers was 61 to 1; by 2019 it had risen to 320 to 1,” reads an Oxfam America fact sheet. “The average CEO earned $13,940,000, while a federal minimum wage worker earned $15,080: a gap of 924 to 1.”

Michael A. Bynum