The Worth of Women’s Work

Compared to our neighbors in Wisconsin, working people in Minnesota are doing alright. We have more job growth, higher pay, and better labor protections. The prosperity that we enjoy as a state is not, however, equally felt, with significant wage disparities for women and workers of color. As we hear about the persistent workforce shortages across the state and enjoy low unemployment rates, it is worthwhile taking a closer look at how our job market is growing and why it feels like people are having a hard time getting ahead.

One factor perpetuating gender wage disparities is the way that we value, or undervalue, women’s work. The National Women’s Law Center recently released an analysis of national job growth through 2026.1 They used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine that the five fastest growing jobs in the United States are personal care aides, combined food preparation and serving workers (including fast food workers), registered nurses, home health aides, and software applications developers. These five jobs alone account for more than one-fifth of total job growth over the course of the next decade. With the exception of software applications developers, these jobs are dominated by women and employ a large percentage of women of color.2 Strikingly, three of these jobs do not pay family supporting wages.

NSPI analysis of DEED data

In Minnesota, the projections look consistent with the national data. According to our analysis of the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Occupations in Demand data set, these will be the five largest job gainers in Minnesota and account for about 30% of total job growth in Minnesota.3

The good news is that we will see gains in areas like registered nurses and software developers which are jobs that typically come with good salaries and benefits. While women only make up about 20% of the workers in software application development, the nursing profession employs a large number of women.4

However,the largest gainers are personal care aides, home health aides, and food service workers. These jobs do not pay family supporting wages and are all fields with a large percentage of women workers. About 80% of personal care aides, 85% of home health aides, and 66% of food service workers in Minnesota are women. The median hourly wage for these jobs ranges $10.61 for food service workers, $11.96 for personal care aides, and $13.52 for home health care aides.

NSPI analysis of DEED data

According to the Economic Policy Institute family budget calculator these wages are insufficient for a household of any size to make ends meet in any county in Minnesota.5 Supporting a family at these wages is impossible without other forms of assistance.

This is not only a wage problem. Personal care aides, home health aides, and food service workers have low rates of paid sick time.6 Only 25% of full time food service workers and 31% of full time personal care aides have paid sick time in Minnesota. These jobs frequently have unpredictable scheduling and limited benefits. They are also often part-time employment. For example, of the 6,640 current openings for personal care aides in Minnesota, about 70% are less than full time.7

As our state population gets older, we are going to need more people to fill jobs related to home health and home assistance. If these jobs are necessary and important, how can we ensure that we are valuing the work?

On a national level efforts like the First Day Fairness agenda from the Economic Policy Institute are encouraging states to protect working people from day one with rights, wages, and benefits to support community well-being. This includes robust worker protections, benefits such as paid sick and safe time, and increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.8

On an individual level training programs can help workers grow skills and obtain employment in higher wage jobs. Today’s personal care aide is a 9-week certificate away from being tomorrow’s phlebotomist and making an additional five dollars an hour.9 Investment in high quality training that is tied to high quality jobs is an important strategy for creating opportunities for low wage workers. However, providing training is not by itself enough to address the challenge posed by low-wage job growth.

Ensuring that all workers earn a living wage is arguably the most pressing public policy issue in today’s economy. Until this is addressed the gender wage gap will remain and our future will look both understaffed and underpaid.

 

National Women’s Law Center, Low Wage Jobs Held Primarily by Women Will Grow the Most over the Next Decade, https://nwlc-ciw49tixgw5lbab.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Low-Wage-Jobs-Held-Primarily-by-Women-Will-Grow-the-Most-Over-the-Next-Decade-2018.pdf
2 Ibid.
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Occupations in Demand. Note that this analysis is limited to job growth from 2016-2026 and does not address total potential job openings due to turnover.
EEO Tabulation 2006-2010 (5-year ACS data)
5 https://www.epi.org/resources/budget/
Institute for Women’s Policy Research analysis of 2014-2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and 2016 IPUMS American Community Survey (ACS).
7 Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Job Vacancy Survey, https://apps.deed.state.mn.us/lmi/jvs/Results.aspx
8 https://www.epi.org/publication/first-day-fairness-an-agenda-to-build-worker-power-and-ensure-job-quality/
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Occupational Wage Data