Report Shows N.C. Women Are Faced with Decisions that Lead to Low-Wage Work

January 9, 2023

The latest report on poverty in North Carolina from Professor Gene R. Nichol and Heather A. Hunt ’02 examines the ways that women in North Carolina are caught in the crosshairs of irreconcilable social and economic demands.

In “We Set People Up For Impossible Decisions” Women and Low-Wage Work,  Nichol and Hunt expand on their prior research of the more than 3.2 million poor North Carolinians who also experience economic instability.

North Carolina allows the stark challenges of poverty, economic inequality and low-wage work to be visited disproportionately upon women and, often, their children. Most low wage workers are women—relegated to jobs that pay less, deliver fewer benefits, offer less control of their work schedules. Higher percentages of women live in poverty than men. And women of color are impoverished in North Carolina at even higher rates than their White counterparts. Women make, on average, 17% less in wages than men, even though more North Carolina women have a college degree than do men. Four of 10 Black women full-time workers are low- wage employees, as are half of Hispanic women workers. Occupational segregation results in notably lower compensation and benefits for jobs primarily occupied by women. Family structure contributes decidedly to poverty, but as low-income women report, marriage is not the anti-poverty cure- all it is frequently touted to be. This report also discusses how the rising threats to reproductive freedom, in North Carolina and beyond, pose daunting challenges to economic as well as social and constitutional equality.

Broadly speaking, low-income mothers are put in an untenable position. Family policies
assume that women will stay at home to care for children but economic policies demand that they work. And too often, the work readily available to many women fails to provide economic security for them and their families while it undermines their ability to be good parents. Support systems that would help low-income mothers—family leave, paid time off, affordable housing and universal childcare—are either dramatically strained or non-existent.