Seattle fares well in a new report examining metro areas nationwide based on the size of their low-wage workforces, but faring well in this study is not necessarily a signal of good news, according to Brookings, the nonprofit public-policy organization that conducted the study.
The Seattle metro area recorded the sixth lowest number of low-wage workers among metro areas with populations exceeding 1 million, with 36.2% its workers considered low-wage earners. The threshold for a low-wage earner in the Seattle metro, according to the study, was a wage of $17.48 per hour or less.
That’s lower than the national average of 44%, but it still represents a sizable population in the Seattle area ―a total of 560,980 workers, the study notes.
“While this analysis does not track change over time, it does reflect that low-wage employment plays an outsize role in the economies of many regions, mostly smaller ones, and not typically economic powerhouses,” The Brookings study states. “It does not take away from this argument, however, to note that there are also left-behind people in the largest, most productive, and high-wage regions. Witness the 3.5 million low-wage workers in the New York City region; 950,000 in the Washington, D.C. region; 713,000 in San Francisco; and 560,000 in Seattle.
The U.S. metro areas with populations of 1 million or more that have lower levels of low-wage workers than Seattle are Hartford, Connecticut, 32%; Boston, 34.9%; Minneapolis/St. Paul, 35.3%; Albany, New York, 35.4%; and Cincinnati, 35.8%.
Yakima stands out among Washington cities as the only community in the state to make the list of the 20 U.S metros with the highest share of low-wage earners, ranking 19th on that list, with a 54.8% share, representing 49,540 workers. Texas led all states with five cities on the list of top 20 metros with the highest share of low-wage earners ― followed by California, with four cities.
The study notes that nationally low-wage workers are disproportionately female and people of color. Among female workers, 49% are low-wage earners, compared with 39% of male workers. For Latino workers, 63% are low-wage earners and among African Americans that figure is 54%, compared with 37% of white workers.
“More than 53 million people, or 44% of all workers ages 18 to 64 in the United States, earn low hourly wages,” the study states. “More than half (56%) are in their prime working years of 25-50, and this age group is also the most likely to be raising children (43%).”
The median hourly wage nationally for low-wage workers is $10.22 and the median annual earnings for these employees is $17,950.
“Across more than 350 metropolitan areas, the share of workers earning low wages ranges from 30% to 62%,” the Brookings study notes. “The variation in the concentration of low-wage workers across metropolitan areas relates to broader labor market conditions, including labor market tightness and industry composition.”