Social determinants of work

Where Is the Low-Wage Workforce?

October 02, 2023

Centuries of innovation, trade, and systemic exploitation have shaped the United States economy, with cycles of boom and bust ensuring that economic progress has not been equally felt across the nation. Geographic differences in industry and policy have cemented barriers to higher-earning jobs created by long-standing structural racism and gender discrimination. As a result, these policies have not only shaped who makes up the low-wage workforce but also where jobs are disproportionally low-wage.

This tool maps where low-wage jobs in the US are concentrated and what industries are most common using Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs), which divide states into areas containing no fewer than 100,000 people.

For more information on who makes up the low-wage workforce, see our explanatory feature.


As policymakers continue to build America’s workforce, supporting low-wage workers across the nation remains a vital and necessary avenue for creating a more equitable economy. By targeting interventions to the geographic locations and industries most in need, policymakers can support better quality and higher-earning jobs for all and promote greater economic growth.


This features uses data from the American Community Survey 2017–21 five-year sample. Our low-wage threshold was calculated using data from the 2023 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey. See the technical appendix for additional information on our methodology.


This data tool was funded by the WorkRise funder collaborative. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for WorkRise and Urban to advance their missions. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to WorkRise, the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. More information on our funding principles is available here. Read our terms of service here.

RESEARCH Joe Peck, William Congdon, and Kate Bahn

DESIGN Christina Baird


EDITING Debra Foulks

WRITING Wesley Jenkins

View this project on GitHub

More on this topic

In Depth

Social determinants of work Feature October 02, 2023

Who Is the Low-Wage Workforce?

WorkRise Research

October 02, 2023