What a $15 Minimum Wage Means for Women and Workers of Color

Since workers first went on strike to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union in New York in 2012, the national Fight for $15 campaign has won higher wages in more than 60 states, cities, and counties. It has become the strongest movement for a higher minimum wage since the New Deal, and one of the most effective worker movements in the last four decades. Nearly 20 million workers have seen their wages increase, and almost 10 million of them will receive gradual raises to $15 per hour. The movement is also one that carries enormous implications for people of color and women in this country. As demonstrated below, African Americans, Latinos, and women make up a disproportionate number of workers making below $15 an hour, and they power some of our largest, fastest-growing, and most important industries.

A $15 minimum wage could make significant inroads in helping women and people of color make ends meet, closing persistent gender and race-based pay and wealth gaps, and improving educational and health prospects for children. In fact, The Ferguson Commission, responding to the unrest that followed the death of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, recommended increasing the minimum wage to $15 to create opportunities for individuals in the St. Louis region to thrive. Ultimately, the goals and achievements of the Fight for $15 are inextricably connected to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Equal Pay movement today, as well as the legacy and unfinished work of civil rights and women’s rights movements that have preceded today’s fights.

This report outlines the demographics of workers who make less than $15 an hour, finding that women and people of color are overrepresented in this workforce and in the industries and occupations that have some of the highest proportions of workers earning less than $15 an hour. It highlights how a $15 wage floor could play a critical role in closing the pay and wealth gaps for people of color and women, and could significantly impact future generations. Finally, it explains why raising the federal minimum wage is especially important for African American workers, since the 21 states where the minimum wage remains at the federal, poverty-level rate of $7.25 have some of the largest African American populations in the country.

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About the Authors

Laura Huizar

Immigrant Worker Justice Program Director, National Employment Law Project