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During a CNN town hall, Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris responded to a participant’s question about how she would "level the playing field and empower working women" if she won the presidency.
Harris responded that she would urge passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and make sure people fully understand the realities of the economy.
She gave special attention to minimum-wage workers.
"Women are paid on average 77% to the dollar. And then if you look at African American women and Latinas, even less, and for doing the same work. You look at the fact that we have a real battle in this country around minimum wage and the need to increase minimum wage. We should understand minimum wage is a minimum standard of living, but federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which averages $15,000 a year, and the majority of women are minimum wage workers."
One aspect of Harris’ answer was problematic -- the part where she said that gender, racial and ethnic pay differences are comparisons for "doing the same work." As we have often noted, wage gaps are not calculated on an apples-to-apples basis comparing the same jobs. Instead, they reflect overall pay for all jobs held by men and women, meaning that gender-based patterns of job selection -- whether due to discrimination or voluntary choices -- play a role in creating the pay gap.
But here we’ll focus on a separate part of Harris’ response -- the part where she said that "the majority of women are minimum wage workers." This is incorrect.
According to 2017 data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1,824,000 Americans were paid the minimum wage or less. (Sub-minimum-wage workers exist because there are a few exceptions to the federal minimum wage law, such as for students and tipped workers.) Of that pool of minimum wage workers, 678,000 were men and 1,146,000 were women.
During 2017, the economy as a whole employed approximately 72 million women, meaning that 1.6% of all female workers were paid at or below the minimum wage. So it’s incorrect to say that "the majority of women are minimum wage workers."
When we contacted the Harris campaign, spokesman Ian Sams described it as a "slip of the tongue on live TV. She meant that a majority of minimum wage workers are women."
That statement would accurate. Using the numbers we cited above, women accounted for nearly 63% of minimum wage workers -- a clear majority. In fact, we previously rated a similar statement True.
Still, PolitiFact’s policy is to rate the statement made in the high-profile setting because the comment was seen by a large number of people.
Harris said, "The majority of women are minimum wage workers." That’s not correct; minimum wage workers actually account for a tiny fraction of all working women. Harris said she meant to say that a majority of minimum wage workers are women, and that’s the case -- 63% are women.
We rate her statement at the CNN town hall False.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, "Employment level: women," accessed April 24, 2019
U.S. Department of Labor, "Questions and Answers About the Minimum Wage," accessed April 24, 2019
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Characteristics of minimum wage workers, 2017," March 2018
PolitiFact Iowa, "Clinton says most minimum-wage workers are women," Nov. 13, 2015
Email interview with Ian Sams, spokesman for Kamala Harris, April 24, 2019
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