These workers, whose annual income is less than $31,200, are disproportionately women and people of color, the study found.
Some 47% of Black workers and 46% of Hispanic workers make less than $15 an hour, compared with 26% of White workers. Some 40% of female workers earn less than that threshold, compared with 25% of male workers.
Half of the women of color in the workforce make less than $15 an hour, as do nearly 58% of single parents.
“It’s shameful that at a time when many US companies are boasting record profits, some of the hardest working people in this country — especially people who keep our economy and society functioning — are struggling to get by and falling behind,” said Kaitlyn Henderson, the study’s author and senior research adviser at Oxfam America.
Take Vikki Tully, 65, who lives in Alkol, West Virginia. She makes $12.70 an hour after working as a Head Start teacher for 26 years.
Lower pay also makes it harder for her Head Start program to fill its vacancies. A teacher’s aide, for instance, starts at $10.10 an hour, while bus drivers and cooks start at $9.87 an hour, she said.
“We’re short-staffed at one of the centers because no one wants to work because of the pay,” Tully said. “They have tried and tried to hire people. We’re losing people to other jobs too.”
Biden administration efforts
There are various analyzes of how many people earn less than $15 an hour. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute last year that 22 million people would see a boost in pay if the federal minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour in 2025 under the Raise the Wage Act.
Oxfam America’s figure is higher because it includes the number of people who currently make less than $15 an hour and looks at a broader set of workers that includes tipped wage workers, sub-minimum wage workers, gig workers, farmworkers and care workers, Henderson said . It also includes Puerto Rico, which adds nearly 1 million people.
Both analyzes are based on US Census Bureau data.
Where lower-paid workers live
Oxfam America, which backs the Raise the Wage Act legislation, also looked at which states have larger shares of their labor forces making $15 an hour.
The South has a disproportionate percentage of workers making less than that threshold, as do some states in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain region, the study found.
In Texas, for instance, more than 60% of women of color earn less than $15 an hour. In Mississippi, 45% of the state’s workforce makes less than that amount.
At the other end of the spectrum, Washington, DC, has a minimum wage of $15.20 an hour, while California’s minimum wage this year rose to $15 an hour for larger companies. Some localities, including Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles, have even higher minimum wages.