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March 07, 2013

Activists: US Minimum Wage Boost Would Especially Benefit Women

by Suzanne Presto

President Obama's recent calls to raise the federally mandated minimum wage in the United States - from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour - has galvanized activists on labor issues,  including those who note the wage boost would especially benefit women. 

Activists in the United States are pressing the government to boost the minimum wage.  

President Obama supported this call in a recent televised address.  

"A family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That's wrong," said President Obama.

While women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, they hold more than half of the nation's minimum-wage jobs, says Joan Entmacher of the National Women's Law Center.

"They're the people who serve you food in restaurants or prepare it behind the scenes," said  Entmacher. "They're the people who clean your offices at night after you go home or clean your hotel rooms.  Those are the really low paid jobs, and they are overwhelmingly filled by women."  

That is why women have the most to gain if the minimum wage is boosted, she says.

"It's really important to women because two out of three minimum-wage workers are women," she said. "But when women have more income, their families are better off, their children are better off, and the whole economy is better off because they have more money to spend, and that creates jobs for other people."

It can be especially hard to make ends meet in a tight economy.  Debra Z. Roth found low-wage work during the recession, after surgery and a layoff from her well-paid job.

"I have a lot of confidence about the things that I've done, but the way in which the loss of money and the inability to feel secure affected me and affects other people is like the ground was taken out from under me," said Roth.

Now, Roth holds a job in her field - communications chief at the Washington-based Wider Opportunities for Women.  She identifies with its aim to help women become financially secure, recalling her own struggle with low-wage living.

"I ended up coming home at the end of the day and counting tips and so forth and realizing, 'I can't do this.  I'm wasting my time. I should be doing more to get a job that I can actually live on," she said. "I cannot afford my rent.'"  

Workers have not seen the federal minimum wage increase since 2009.