Who Works for Minimum Wage?

by on December 15th, 2010
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COMMENTARY | Seven dollars and 25 cents per hour. That is the prevailing minimum wage in the United States. If an employee makes the minimum wage and works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that is only a gross income of $15,080. That is hardly enough to support one person, let alone an entire family.

So how do people do it? A better question might be, who are the people doing it? To find out the answer to this question, I have dug through the data at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out who these people are. The answers might surprise you.

They Are Few

In 2010, right around 73 million Americans aged 16 and older (or roughly 58.8 percent of the entire U.S. Workforce) was paid by the hour. Of these 73 million workers, 4.4 million or approximately 6 percent were making at or below the minimum rate.

When factoring in salaried workers, well below 1 in 25 workers was making at or below the federally required minimum wage. This is a lot lower number than some politicians in Washington would lead you to believe.

They are Southern

States with the highest proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below $7.25 per hour included Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and West Virginia (all between 9 and 10 percent).

States with the lowest percentage of workers earning at or below that rate were Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California (all at or below 2 percent)

They Are White, Black, Asian & Hispanic

It may come as a bit of a surprise, but race is almost statistically irrelevant for determining who is likely to earn minimum wage. The numbers break out as follows: About 6 percent of White hourly-paid workers earned at or below the federal minimum, compared to about 5 percent for Asians, 7 percent for Blacks and 6 percent for Hispanics.

They Are Young

If there is one demographic that can be pointed at to find out who is making the federal minimum wage, it is young people. About half of all hourly-wage workers making at or below $7.25 per hour are under the age of 25. More than 1 in 4 of all minimum wage workers are teenagers.

Among employed teens paid by the hour, about 25 percent earn at or below the minimum wage. For workers aged 25 and up, that number is only 4 percent.

After looking over the numbers, a rational person will come to three conclusion:

1. It just simply isn’t true that tens of millions of Americans support their families on minimum wage earnings.

2. There is nothing racist about the federal minimum wage. No racial group can claim that theirs is the one carrying more of the burden than any of the others.

3. High school- and college-aged people are by far the largest groups of minimum wage workers, many of whom are working their first jobs. With a higher minimum wage, one has to wonder if many of these jobs would even exist.

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