Want Women to Earn More? Train Them for Manufacturing

One way to boost earnings of single, low-income women is to urge them to seek out jobs in skilled trades instead of retail and service gigs.

Some female watchmakers at work at Shinola's Detroit factory on Oct. 2, 2013 in Detroit, Mich.
National Journal
Stephanie Czekalinsk
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Stephanie Czekalinsk
Feb. 13, 2014, midnight

Help­ing single work­ing moth­ers move in­to jobs tra­di­tion­ally held by men could help more than 4.1 mil­lion low-in­come fam­il­ies move to­ward join­ing the middle class, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased this week by the Work­ing Poor Fam­il­ies Pro­ject, a not-for-profit that stud­ies state work­force de­vel­op­ment policies.

If wo­men moved in­to jobs in man­u­fac­tur­ing, skilled trades, or trans­port­a­tion in great­er num­bers, they could in­crease their earn­ings by up to 30 per­cent. Cur­rently, nearly half of all low-in­come, work­ing wo­men — those who earn be­low 200 per­cent of the fed­er­al poverty line and who head house­holds — work primar­ily in 16 oc­cu­pa­tions clustered around the ser­vice and re­tail sec­tors. Of­ten, these lower-pay­ing jobs do not provide be­ne­fits like health in­sur­ance or paid sick leave, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

To break it down fur­ther, that’s more than 7 per­cent of work­ing single wo­men with chil­dren who are em­ployed as home health aides; 5.3 per­cent as cashiers; and 5 per­cent as maids or house­keep­ers. Sig­ni­fic­ant num­bers also work as wait­resses, cus­tom­er-ser­vice rep­res­ent­at­ives, per­son­al care aides, ad­min­is­trat­ive as­sist­ants, cooks, or child-care work­ers.

Yet while the mean an­nu­al in­come in 2012 for all work­ers in the ac­com­mod­a­tion and food-ser­vice and re­tail sec­tors was $22,800 and $26,960, re­spect­ively, the mean for those in man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs was $47,240, ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics.

In­creas­ing the pool of wo­men in man­u­fac­tur­ing may seem like clear rem­edy, but there’s a wrinkle. Of­ten man­u­fac­tur­ing or oth­er well-pay­ing blue-col­lar jobs re­quire at least some kind of spe­cial­ized cre­den­tial, says De­borah Povich, an au­thor of the study; that can act as a bar­ri­er for single work­ing moms. “What hap­pens when a single mom needs to go back to school? She’s go­ing to need help pay­ing for it, and she’s go­ing to need qual­ity child care,” Povich adds.

Fin­an­cing an edu­ca­tion while foot­ing the bill for child care is dif­fi­cult, par­tic­u­larly those work­ing in low-pay­ing in­dus­tries.

Some of the fast­est-grow­ing oc­cu­pa­tions dur­ing the eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery re­main in the ser­vice and re­tail sec­tors. And de­mand for home health care aides is ex­pec­ted to in­crease by 69 per­cent by 2020. Home health aides typ­ic­ally earn about $21,000 a year, less than half the an­nu­al mean wage of $46,000 across all oc­cu­pa­tions. All the more reas­on for low-in­come wo­men to look in­to get­ting in­to man­u­fac­tur­ing, or oth­er jobs that re­quire tech­nic­al skills.

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