By Sylvia R. Garcia
Texas State Senator
Believe it or not, nearly 100 years after earning the right to vote, women are still struggling to achieve equality in American society. From the factory floor to the boardroom, women here in Texas face wage discrimination at every level of employment in every industry, making only 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. For women of color the situation is even more disheartening, with African American women making 78 cents, and Latinas making 59 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. This is despite the fact that women are now the primary breadwinners, or joint breadwinners in two-thirds of American households.
On the more extreme end of this problem, women make up two-thirds of those earning the minimum wage in America and are more likely than men to live in poverty. Despite the misconceptions that some people may have, your average minimum wage earner is not a high school student working to save up for their first car. Your average minimum wage earner is an adult woman with a high school diploma struggling to keep food on the table and living paycheck to paycheck
Industries that traditionally employ high concentrations of women such as food service, retail, home health care, and child care, make up the lion’s share of minimum wage jobs. These are tough, labor intensive jobs that aside from paying the minimum wage generally have no benefits, lack a steady schedule and have little room for upward mobility.
After a year of working full time at the minimum wage, a woman can earn a little over $15,000. If she is the head of a household with just one child, she falls below the federal poverty line. And once you are trapped in poverty, it can be very difficult to escape.
For women who work in the service industry and rely on tips such as restaurant servers, the minimum wage is currently $2.13 per hour, a rate which has remained unchanged for over thirty years. Restaurant servers, of which 70 percent are women, experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of the workforce as a whole.
In Texas, we have more people earning minimum wage than any other state in the country, and we would be the greatest benefactors of an increase. With higher salaries, minimum wage earning women would have more expendable income for healthy foods, clothes for their children, a vehicle and gasoline that was previously unaffordable. All of this would mean more money being pumped into the Texas economy and less dependency on welfare programs; all at no cost to the tax-payer.
Texas can afford to raise the minimum wage. Texas weathered the past recession much better than other states and has far outpaced the rest of the country in terms of job growth. Yet most of our growth has come from the energy, manufacturing and technology industries which employ very few minimum wage workers.
For all of these reasons, I am happy that President Obama continues to urge Congress to raise the minimum wage, and I am happy to see some movement of this in the US Senate. Congress has raised the minimum wage only three times in 30 years, and it is now just $7.25 per hour. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968, it would be nearly $10.80 per hour today.
It is high time that we have equal pay for equal work in Texas, and raising the minimum wage would be a big step towards achieving that goal. But even more importantly, we need to ensure that no one who is willing to put in an honest day’s work has to live in poverty in America, especially in Texas.