LGBT Americans have made great strides in acceptance in recent years, and as the result of actions across the country and those initiated by President Obama, they enjoy more rights than at any other time in our nation’s history. With greater acceptance and protections, LGBT Americans have a better shot at climbing the ladders of opportunity that allow everyone to succeed, and the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, then you can get ahead.
However, recent reports make clear that many LGBT workers are struggling to make ends meet. Contrary to the popular myth that they are childless, high-income earners with lots of disposable income, many are employed in low-wage jobs and supporting families. In fact, many of America’s estimated 5.4 million LGBT workers would benefit greatly from increasing the national minimum wage.
Consider the following:
- LGBT couples raising children are twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to their married or partnered non-LGBT counterparts.
- Single LGBT adults raising children are three times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line compared to single non-LGBT individuals raising children.
- 7.7 percent of male same-sex and 14.1 percent of female same-sex couples receive food assistance, compared to 6.5 percent of different-sex married couples.
- Male couples are more likely to be poor than married different-sex couples – after controlling for other factors influencing poverty.§
- African-American same-sex couples have poverty rates at least twice the rate for different-sex married African Americans.
- Transgender people are nearly four times as likely to have household income under $10,000 per year than the population as a whole (15 percent vs. 4 percent).
- Gay and bisexual men experience a wage penalty and earn between 10% and 32% less than heterosexual men, even when controlling for education, occupation, and region.
- Lesbian women are affected by the gender wage gap, with the overall impact amplified for two-worker lesbian couples.
- 7.6 percent of lesbian couples are experiencing poverty, compared to 5.7 percent among different-sex couples.
- Poverty rates for female same-sex couples and unmarried different-sex couples are higher than those of married different-sex couples.
Raising the national minimum wage – stuck now at $7.25 per hour for more than 5 years – to $10.10 would go a long way to helping LGBT workers and their families. It would benefit 28 million American workers overall, directly lifting 2 million out of poverty. Up to 3.8 million Americans would earn enough so that they no longer need food stamps. And, let’s keep in mind that boosting wages boosts demand. With an economy driven by consumer spending, more money in the pockets of the working poor means more money spent in local stores – stimulating economic growth.
Raising the national minimum wage is common sense – and long overdue. While it would disproportionately benefit LGBT workers, it would have a significantly positive effect on all workers and the country as a whole. With so many reasons to raise it, it’s a shame that action at the federal level is stalled.
Carl Fillichio heads the Labor Department’s Office of Public Affairs.