September 8, 2014

Who makes minimum wage?

federal minimum wage over timeGiven the continuing campaigns by unions, workers, politicians and others to raise the federal minimum wage, it bears asking: Just who are minimum-wage workers, anyway?

Perhaps surprisingly, not very many people earn minimum wage, and they make up a smaller share of the workforce than they used to. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year 1.532 million hourly workers earned the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour; nearly 1.8 million more earned less than that because they fell under one of several exemptions (tipped employees, full-time students, certain disabled workers and others), for a total of 3.3 million hourly workers at or below the federal minimum.

That group represents 4.3% of the nation’s 75.9 million hourly-paid workers and 2.6% of all wage and salary workers. In 1979, when the BLS began regularly studying minimum-wage workers, they represented 13.4% of hourly workers and 7.9% of all wage and salary workers. (Bear in mind that the 3.3 million figure doesn’t include salaried workers, although BLS says relatively few salaried workers are paid at what would translate into below-minimum hourly rates. Also, 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have higher minimum wages than the federal standard; people who earned the state minimum wage in those jurisdictions aren’t included in the 3.3 million total.)

People at or below the federal minimum are:

  • Disproportionately young: 50.4% are ages 16 to 24; 24% are teenagers (ages 16 to 19).
  • Mostly (77%) white; nearly half are white women.
  • Largely part-time workers (64% of the total).

minimum wage workers by occupational groupThey’re employed in the industries and occupations you might expect: More than half (55%) work in the leisure and hospitality industry, about 14% in retail, 8% in education and health services, and the rest scattered among other industries. Broken down occupationally, the picture is similar: Nearly 47% are in food-preparation and serving-related occupations; 14.5% are in sales and related occupations, 7% in personal care and service occupations, and the rest are scattered.

They’re also more likely to live in the South than anywhere else – in part because only one southern state (Florida) has its own higher state minimum wage. In both the West South Central (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana) and East South Central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) regions, 6.3% of hourly workers make the federal minimum or less — the highest rates among the nine Census Bureau-defined regions. They were followed by the eight-state (plus D.C.) South Atlantic region, where 5.1% of hourly workers made the federal minimum or less. The lowest rate, 1.5%, was in the Pacific region – not surprising, given that four of the five states in that region (California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska) have their own, higher state minimums.

Economists continue to debate the extent to which minimum-wage laws reduce poverty, income inequality and/or overall employment. What’s clear, though, is that after a three-step increase in 2007-09, today’s minimum wage buys more than it did recently, but its real purchasing power is about where it was in the early 1980s — and below its late-1960s peak.

Note: This post has been updated with 2013 data.

Topics: Economics and Personal Finances, National Economy

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

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  1. PIPCassierkjuu2 weeks ago

    When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

  2. Jd2 weeks ago

    Yes, but by accounting for only those who earn minimum wage or less you ignore the many millions who earn only $0.25 or $0.50 above MW. The number would be, I think, substantially higher.

    1. BW2 weeks ago

      Based on what? What you choose to believe? Actually 1/2 are jobs that also pay tips, so the truth is that most people making min wage, actually earn far more

  3. Suzanne1 month ago

    I wanted to make a comment on this. For a short time in my life, I had a financial crash of my own, and had to resort to taking a retail job. I’d never had this kind of job in my life. What I learned: Most retail employers, in California anyway, pay just a tad over minimum wage; still definitely NOT a livable wage. I was hired in at $10/hour, luckily. There is no way anyone could eat, pay rent, utilities, transportation, insurance, medical expenses, etc. on this. After 2008, this retail store lowered their hire-in rate to $8.00/hour. They were mostly students who had parental support, so their little retail job really wasn’t meant for anything more than a little help. For the rest of the employees who depended on that job, it was very depressing. They also cut most of the incentive pay, such as commissions, after 2008, and cut hours. No one except management was a full-time employee with medical benefits; everyone else was part-time so they didn’t have to pay benefits. For part-time employees, “health discount” benefits were offered for $80-90/month out of your minimum wage pay, but those “benefits” were a joke. It was also not affordable for most part-time employees, which meant most employees.
    There are so many injustices in that world of low pay where many exist, and where I had to exist for awhile. It was traumatic, abusive and a true ordeal. To make a difference in the lives of those at that pay rate, you’d have to raise it quite a bit more. Perhaps $15/hour might make a difference.
    While raising the minimum wage to $10.10/hour is a good thing, it will not change lives much or raise people out of poverty.

    1. cp4 days ago

      Very true!

  4. Tomas1 month ago

    This is the real question and if any one knows the answer please write it down:
    Why if Florida is with out doubts the most tourist state of the nation,if hotels, amusement parks,theaters,night clubs,all kind of business, extremely amount of tolls,more than any other state,taxes all over,you pay here even to park in your own apartment parking lot,everywhere you go you pay a lot more in fees for everything,ballet parking everywhere, 40,50 etc, restaurant prices excessively high,the rent of any shitty apartment average 1,500 one bed room and almost 2000 for 2 beds and one bath, that is the average,we need to stop hiding the reality,people here struggle with 3 part times to afford the rent,and those business people pay extremely low salaries any regular worker. In California or New york the salaries are a lot better,the food (I mean groceries0 are cheaper,china town you buy everything half price of Miami,fl.,you find good clothing at cheap price,etc. but Florida is so expensive in everything. In any other
    state people start making always more that the minimum wage,not in Florida. The Communism of Cuba is controlling Florida salaries,they make those poor people work for those miserable salaries,why they do that,if they know they can pay better to the Floridians. Please don’t tell me California and New York are more expensive,because they are not,at least no more than Florida.

  5. Charles Evers2 months ago

    All is it’s getting to hard to find any jobs these days. .

  6. David2 months ago

    Okay here’s how to escape hell.

    Apply to atleast 200 places online and walk 5-10 miles to an interview with your only dress shirt and pants. PLAN what you’re going to say, pretend you’re confident although you’re not. Walk to work until you buy a bike and winter jacket. work a few months at minimum until you get a car. Move into an old friends place or a relative now that you’re not a freeloader and contact a staffing agency and work your way to $10 an hour. register and insure your car, pay rent, try to get off EBT. quit smoking, drinking, drugs. get your g.e.d. then get financial aid to go to college. (or get a union factory career). get straight A’s in college and ride a scholarship to get your AS, BA, or Masters’ degree.

    After those 10 long painful years by yourself living frugally you’ll now have a decent income and can pay off debt. think about it, do you want a house in the safe suburbs or an apartment in the south side slums. The difference in lifestyles is one is poor and lazy, the other is poor and hard working. Can’t or Can attitude. Do it for your future self and kids fellow teenagers in poverty..

    1. Joe Williams2 months ago

      Awesome point. And since all you need to do to get a job is “try hard” there’s no reason we should be allowing people the crutch of “immigrants take all the jobs” and can open the borders.

    2. Wilnex Paul1 month ago

      Very nice David. However, lots of people follow this path and make out Ok, except lots of other people tried and failed. You see life circumstances like accidents, sickness, loss of a love ones do not care about our “logical” economic plans to get out of poverty. Our thinking needs to allow for that, and not be overly harsh.
      In our head, it may be a logical plan but reality can be more messy and complicated, ignoring that may lead to insensitivity.

  7. Jon B2 months ago

    It’s a way Unions push for wage increases to their membership. Let’s be like Switzerland and have no minimum wage. Put it to vote and an increase to minimum would never pass. Democrats use it to divide people-they always need a victim to promote their failed agenda.

    1. Joe Williams2 months ago

      Yeah, I think we should take the parts of what Switzerland does that we like, and ignore the stuff we don’t like (gasp! socialism!) and assume it’ll be great.

      1. Will1 month ago

        Switzerland is like Hong Kong– arguably among the least socialist countries in the world. There’s a reason why Switzerland is host to European hedge funds– individual cantons compete with one another to lower income taxes. Clearly you have not lived there.

      2. Pamela L.4 weeks ago

        I’d like to see you respond to useless eater, John B.

        You also can’t provide any examples of how Democrats divide people. That’s a Republican talent.

    2. useless eater1 month ago

      Switzerland is blessed with strong unions which have established a defacto minimum wage. That wage works out to a little less than $15/hr…

  8. Doug R2 months ago

    I’m a little bothered by this research and a lot of other research that studies the minimum wage as it studies people who make EXACTLY the federal minimum wage, $7.40 per hour. If someone made $7.50, or $8.00 an hour, they would be exempt from the study, but still under the poverty level. A more inclusive study would be to determine the demographics of those making, say, $15 an hour, or making less than the poverty level. Then you would get a better picture of what kind of people are poor and what kind of industries they work in. This would help pinpoint what kind of solutions may work to help them, whether raises in minimum wage laws, or perhaps changes in policy or investment in business and economic development.

    1. Doug R2 months ago

      In the above post I meant to say “the demographics of those making, say, $15 an hour OR LESS,”

      1. Jane2 months ago

        This post is not a comprehensive examination of poverty and low-wage earners. It’s data-gathering about a specific policy: the minimum wage. There are plenty of articles that examine which industries pay the most and pay the least, even broken down by specific pay grade. There are also plenty of articles providing data on the federal poverty line.

        See how he didn’t end the post with a litany of policy suggestions for reducing poverty? That’s likely because that’s not the point. The point is to provide advocates and opponents of *this specific policy* with solid, easily digestible data. For those looking for policy solutions for reducing poverty that are as far-reaching as business investment to labor laws, they would need to read several books. Not a 250-word article.

        1. Joe Williams2 months ago

          The problem is raising the minimum wage impacts more than just the people making exactly the minimum wage today, it affects EVERYONE who WILL be under the NEW minimum wage.

    2. Pamela L.4 weeks ago

      Thank you, Doug. Absolutely.

  9. JGM2 months ago

    Mr. Jaeger,

    Less than 3% (2./6% to be precise) of the workforce paid a wage or a salary earns just the minimum wage. That is hardly a “large number”.

    This whole discussion is put forth by the Democrats as just another way to polarize the electorate. The same as the gay marriage issue. Less than 2% of the population is gay, but just look how much attention this issue gets. It’s ridiculous.

    1. rtl2 months ago

      You nailed it! It’s about driving voters to the polls with phoney issues.
      Lying liars and the lies they tell.

    2. Marc in NA2 months ago

      I think that is backwards. Gay issues get publicity because a large number of people who are opposed to gay marriage, and thus it becomes an issue that gay folks have to fight for. Otherwise, there would be no attention to the issue. I would predict that once gay marriage becomes the norm, no one is going to care anymore.

    3. Joe Williams2 months ago

      So what you’re saying is this shouldn’t hurt anyone then, yeah?

    4. Pamela L.4 weeks ago

      Where did you get that only 2% of the population is gay? And why is this in a site that’s clearly all about wages?

  10. John R Jaeger2 months ago

    Just to set the record straight. A large number of the people making less than the federal minimum wage are food and beverage servers whose wage comes primarily from tips. Now how much they make is dependent on the restaurant they work at, but they are not all living in poverty. My daughter worked at a very nice restaurant in the suburbs of Boston for several years. I won’t say what she was making, but let’s just say she was solidly middle class. Of course there is a large difference in tips between a little café where the average bill is less than $10 and a high end restaurant where the bill is closer to $50 per person. My daughter worked at the latter. Still, the statistics should be revised to account for actual take home pay. By the way, contrary to popular opinion, servers do usually pay taxes on a good portion of their tips. With the vast majority of people paying for their meals with credit cards now, a lot of restaurants have added tip income onto W2s.

    1. Jim1 week ago

      I agree that many tipped workers may make good money. In Florida, those businesses with tipped employees, pay just 4.91 an hour, every hour. My daughter works at such a place. Some hours she gets no tips, yet her pay is still 4.91 per hour. Then they include any tips she made all week into her paycheck. She works a fews days a week @ the 4,91 wage plus about $20 tips. I think it’s time to just get a job at Checkers where they pay minimum for all hours worked.

  11. Nicole2 months ago

    @Paige S
    28 million is still only 9% of America. So the other 91% who wouldn’t benefit from a wage increase would have to deal with the brunt of inflation, dollar depreciation etc; which will eventually percolate down to that poor 9% once again and we end up right where we started. Raising minimum wage is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound….it isn’t going to accomplish anything. Now properly taxing those who can afford it rather than giving them tax breaks left and right might actually help our economy.

    1. Miguel2 months ago

      Your arguments would make sense if the weren’t based on terrible misconceptions. Prices go up to help business owners/managers help their workers, but it doesn’t significantly hurt anyone in terms of inflation. If we raise minimum wage by a dollar, that dollar per hour would be spread across customers(using a restaurant as an example) which would only add up to a few cents per customer. This would stimulate spending which would put billions of dollars into the economy.

      I do agree that taxing corporations would make a much larger difference, but do not discredit raising minimum wage.

      1. Terry1 month ago

        I managed a retail store for a year and a half that barely made a profit. Before I was there it was losing a ton of money. None of my employees were making minimum wage, but all would have had their wages raised by the proposed 40 percent increase in minimum wage. That would have put the store and many other retail stores in our area in our same situation out of business. Big corporations are not lobbying against minimum wage laws, by the way. It would actually help them because they can absorb the costs and put small business competitors out of business. A disproportionately high percentage of minority businesses would be negatively hit by minimum wage laws because many operate on such slim profit margins.

        Low wage jobs function as starter jobs.Having worked both full time and part time in real retail for over 30 years, I can safely say that very few employees who are good will have to stay at a very low wage job year after year. Good, adult employees with legal status and good communication skills who remain at FT jobs that pay less than 11 or 12 dollars an hour for long periods of time most often either are happy there or have fears of moving forward that cannot be helped by any government policy. This fear may include leaving an economically depressed area for better one.

        The absurd argument that giving low-wage workers extra money helps the economy because that money is then spent ignores the fact that these extra dollars paid to the workers come from somebody else’s pocket, and quite often a small business owner who does not make enough money to afford that.

    2. Haley2 months ago

      When low income workers receive wages, they aren’t sent to offshore savings accounts, but instead are sent directly back into the local economy to pay for items they need to live i.e. food, shelter, clothes, and maybe even some extras.

      Increased spending benefits local economies and creates jobs, look back at why auto makers originally paid their employees so well, because they knew they would then buy cars, helping the company in the long run.

      It would also help people not need to rely on the government for help, allowing that money to spent in other ways that benefit the community.

  12. Riley2 months ago

    I want to ask one question and one question only, Why should you get paid more than minimum if you only did the minimum amount of work in the first place? Think about it at least 50% of fast food workers or grocery workers and factory workers are high school drop outs and the other half our graduates who decided not to go to college because it’s easier to get a job at a restaurant. Education is everything in today’s society and educations is something a lot of people are lacking.

    1. B2 months ago

      Tell me — how is someone supposed to afford college classes without any money to pay for them? Most of the people I know working part-time are either in college and working, or in college and trying to support themselves. Not only that, what rate are you using to compare the “minimum amount of work” to the rate of pay? How can you measure how much some hypothetical person works?

    2. useless eater1 month ago

      You’re misunderstanding who will be affected by increasing the minimum wage. An increase to $10.10/hr (for example) will affect everyone who is currently earning below $10.10/hr – not just the 3% earning the current minimum wage.

    3. useless eater1 month ago

      What does education have to do with how hard someone works while they’re on the job? By your logic, a self employed hard working high school dropout, running his own business, doesn’t deserve as much as the college grad he may hire.

      Or and intelligent hard working employee, who happens to be a dropout, deserves less than a lazy mediocre college grad who earned “gentleman’s C’s” (in the words of George Bush).

    4. Suzanne1 month ago

      How can you judge how hard someone works, based on their education? From the grammar and spelling errors in your own statement, I can only assume that you are/were not the best of students. Did you ever think that perhaps many people cannot AFFORD to go to college? It sounds to me as if you are looking down on these people, judging where you should not judge, not knowing their circumstances or realities.
      Perhaps you should walk a mile in their shoes.

    5. Pamela L.4 weeks ago

      Riley, so we all go to college and get degrees, who IS going to flip the burgers?

  13. C2 months ago

    Wrong. The teeenagers cant get the minimum wage jobs now. Adults desperate for any job at all are taking those, as well as retired people who lost their retirements that are returning to work at some of the only jobs they can get.

  14. Paige S2 months ago

    This analysis would be enhanced by placing a discussion of the minimum wage within the broader context of low wage work more generally. Approximately 28 million Americans would positively benefit directly or indirectly (from upward wage pressure) from an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The way the article reads (at least to me) is as if to suggest that only 4.3% of the labor force earn minimum wage and every one else is doing just fine. This is an inaccurate and overly simplistic portrayal of the condition of the working poor in this country. A very large percentage of Americans are just getting by, and do not have enough money to meet the basic needs of their families. They may be earning $10 or $12 dollars an hour, but they are living on the financial brink–one health emergency or car repair away from losing a job and falling back into poverty.

  15. Mark O2 months ago

    Some of you people have not even read the article. 4.3% of the work force are minimum wage and of that over 50% students. If you raise the min wage, less student work, prices in restaurant and fast food, grocery stores and other retail place will rise. They will do this with less people, longer lines to check out and poorer customer service. It will not help anyone!

    1. Michele Marie2 months ago

      OK, so you’re saying if we raise minimum wage then prices will rise? Then why did prices raise even when the minimum wage wasn’t raised? Why did gas prices more than double, college costs went up by hundreds of percentage points, and everything else from groceries, to clothing to utilities to apartment rents and housing prices, all went up even though minimum wage never moved? Many students are trying to work their way through college these days. So why not pay 50 cents more for a burger so people can get a living wage? Most folks will never notice the miniscule raise in prices anyway. I’ve seen people pay 5-7 bucks for a cup of coffee, so I’m sure they won’t have a problem paying a little more for a burger. Most of the states that have raised minimum wage now have a better economy because if poor people have more money they will spend it and create more jobs. Let’s do it, raise the minimum wage to a fair, living wage.

    2. Jerry N. Wesner2 months ago

      MarkO, if you think that businesses that pay minimum wage or near it can operate successfully with fewer workers, you’ve never held such a job. Already bosses are pushing to get more work from fewer workers, cutting hours, demanding split shifts, and otherwise milking low-wage laborers for all they can get. Any fewer and nobody would be cleaning tables and flipping burgers. When the minimum wage has gone up, as when raised by states, the number of workers is virtually unaffected, and business often increases — more people can afford to buy stuff.

  16. Robin3 months ago

    We can’t tell where the data comes from – tax returns, or surveys? Are we talking about a “base wage” of minimum, or total “gross income”? This data SHOULD be compiled from tax returns and divide TOTAL gross wages by TOTAL number of hours worked – because that is the very definition of “hourly wage”. But we don’t know if it does, or does not. Food service jobs are always at the top of the list of minimum wage workers, but I don’t think that includes total gross wages (i.e. tips). So it seems to me that this data isn’t coming from tax returns, and does not reflect reality at all. Show me, just SHOW ME, a waitress who only GROSSES $7.25 per hour! That would mean she’s getting ZERO tips and must be a really bad waitress. I don’t know of any employer that would keep someone on that is that bad at their job. So obviously the data is skewed and does not reflect GROSS HOURLY WAGES. Therefore, the data is meaningless.

    1. Eric Johnson3 months ago

      If you click on the BLS hyperlink in paragraph 2 it sends you to this webpage with the following survey info:
      The data are obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a national monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Information on earnings is collected from one-fourth of the CPS sample each month.

    2. Chris2 months ago

      Your point would be a good one if it were accurate Robin. BUT the minimum wage for tipped employees is 2.13/hour. The National Restaurant Association lobby has effectively lobbied to exempt that group of employees for years, and the result is that the minimum wage for tipped employees has not changed in 23 years. Initially that number was arrived at by a compromise to get the minimum wage passed in 1991. Tipped employees had to be paid “at least 50%” of the proposed minimum. Somehow though, each time the a new minimum wage has been passed, the Restaurant Association has successfully kept these folks exempted. You might be surprised to know that many restaurant employees get a negative check every payday and therefore have to cough up money for taxes because their wage doesn’t even cover that.

  17. Tobyw3 months ago

    Minimum wage jobs are supposed to be first jobs, or jobs with tips. The market is clogged with workers who have no experience or quit HS/can’t do arithmetic/read/show up for work, etc. If you can create value for your employer you will get a job worthy of that value.

    1. Jerry N. Wesner2 months ago

      Tobyw, you must live in a world where rainbows arch over unicorns. You create value for your employer and he — lets you. Increasing workers’ pay because they do really, really good work? You work hard and he may give you more hours up to when overtime would kick in, but that’s about it. Bosses often can’t give raises anyway, because the handbook says no. Or the regional manager frowns on anybody getting more than is absolutely necessary. Work hard and move up may have been true, in 1952, but it isn’t now.

  18. Shaka3 months ago

    It would be best if this study were replicated using differing levels of proposed “living wages.” That way there would be a uniform floor for each state regardless of federal or state minimum wages. I think that using living wages would also stop the debate from being about whether people make at or above the minimum wage to whether they can live on their actual wages (which is the point this article is getting at I believe). Finally, if the study included proposed living wages then we could from there analyze possible inflation countrywide (because state minimum wages above the federal minimum but below the proposed living wage would have to change, those state minimum wages above the proposed living wage wouldn’t necessarily have to change).

  19. Ana Maria Fores Tamayo3 months ago

    I wish these stats would begin to place oddities like adjunct faculty, who, though most times we do not get paid living wages, we do not “qualify” in these stats because you quantify them by the hour. Given that we work on the credit hour system, and we only get paid for hours in the classroom — not for all the work done outside the class — our average 60 hour work weeks never get balanced in. If they did, they would certainly show a stark picture of today’s contingent faculty work week, who make up 75% of the Higher Education professoriat today (that translates to 1 million intellectual workers, give or take a few, of the 1.5 million professors in Higher Ed today).

    Is there a way for you to begin to show this to the outside world? It sure would make a difference. When we are being educated by part-time faculty who have no time to dedicate to students because we have to run around to our next class at our next school in order to make ends meet, it is students who lose out: in the end, society will be the biggest loser of all.

    Faculty working conditions become student learning conditions. Want to change that outcome? Change faculty conditions. And want to change that? Let people know; make them aware of this horrible inconsistency. Professors teaching students make less than people selling them goods at the supermarket sometimes.

    Right now, very few people know this dirty little secret. The universities are fooling everyone. We keep telling folks, but they keep spinning the news. But they cannot spin stats. Please accumulate and publish them.

    Besos, not borders,

    Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice
    Facebook Page:

    1. John M3 months ago

      Adjunct faculty is a difficult situation because some of your competition is essentially volunteer. I have thought about this as I near retirement and look for something to do. I am considering teaching college, using my education & experience to do something useful. I don’t need the money and would probably work almost for nothing more than that satisfaction of doing it. My dilemma is the flip side of yours. I don’t want to take useful work from people who might need it for their livelihood, but I don’t want to demand much money and price myself out of the market. I am a soon to be former diplomat. Many of my colleagues are teaching and none of them are earning much, but that is okay. Some are donating what money they earn right back to the university. I understand this “virtue” may harm as much as it helps, but what is the solution?

  20. Robert Kaul3 months ago

    Anyone in America who gives up their time to work for someone else should be paid a living wage so that they can sustain themselves by their work and not need a subsidy from others to sustain them. The current minimum wage is not a living wage, it is a political wage created by wrangling politicians. The issue of turning the political wage into a living wage is not an economic issue, it is a moral issue, just as slavery was. We created the minimum wage to protect workers now we need to define it as a living wage to stop the wrangling and reward work with a livable minimum.

  21. Mike3 months ago

    I think 1.5 million food prep and service workers making $7.25/hr is a shame on our country and the ubber rich.

    1. Arne Boberg3 months ago

      I agree – these people who are serving food that directly causes heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer should be paying in to offset health care costs instead of collecting any wage.

      1. Logan3 months ago

        Why should they? they do not want to feed you unhealthy meals, they need to in order to make a living and support their family. I do think though, that some corporations should either make their meals healthier, provide easier to view nutrition facts, or make the consequences abundantly clear. but the duty of paying money for health care costs goes the the company, not the employee, as they most likely need that money to feed/ house their family.

  22. Befuddled3 months ago

    If one is trying to support a family on minimum wage you can’t do it but my guess is if that is the case they are already on welfare of some sort. If not they must be very slow mentally. It’s not rocket science to figure out one must do something to make themselves more valuable so as to improve their financial well being. As this report states buying power is going down. It’s called inflation. The ones I tend to feel for are those who worked their life and tried to save for retirement only to see their savings earn nothing to help keep up with inflation. We tend to want to do away with those people as they are considered non productive now and they want their money that was earned so they can do with it as they want. Be it the government or the me me generations. Pathetic

  23. hs3 months ago

    What is the % just slightly above the legal minimum?

  24. John B3 months ago

    Sorry your inflation adjustment is way off. According to the US Dept of Labor inflation adjustment tool, the minimum wage in 1968 would be $10.95 todays dollars.…

    1. Ryan F3 months ago

      It’s not inaccurate, it’s just using the PCE deflator instead of the CPI to calculate inflation.

      The note under the graph mentions that they are using the implicit price deflator for Personal Consumption Expenditure, which is not the same as the Consumer Price Index. Indexed to 100 in 2009, the CPE had a value of 20.5 in 1968 and 108.8 in 2014 Q2, an increase of about 431%. Multiplying the 1968 minimum wage of $1.60 an hour by 5.31 gives us values corresponding to the chart included in the article.…

  25. Jon the pizza guy3 months ago

    I have a 17 year old kid who washes dishes at my pizzeria, he works about 25 hrs a week. He lives at home with his parents and he is a full time high school student…he has no bills but his car insurance. At $7.25 he makes about $180 a week. If I paid him $15 that goes to $375…almost $200 a week more…and that comes right out of my pocket…my kids college fund, my retirement…*my car insurance*….who out there can explain to me why he deserves that money more than me?

    1. Chuck3 months ago

      The term “deserves” means nothing in the discussion about minimum wage. The workforce in the US is larger than you are, and you are the measuring stick for nothing. How about the teenage mother shlepping boxes at a Walmart who lives at home with her disabled mother and a little brother, taking care of them? Does she deserve part of your surplus earnings? I don’t know; what do you think?

      1. Mike3 months ago

        Who’s that? What’s her name and where does she live?

  26. Dennis3 months ago

    I support raising the minimum wage for 18 and older workers to $10.10 per hour and leaving it the same for workers under 18. This would provide more income to the adults currently earning minimum wage without decreasing employment for after school workers.
    The real question the economists should be answer before commenting on minimum wage is how much economic impact do yearly cost of living raises have on the economy? when all cost living wages are added up do they eliminate jobs? are we seeing fewer jobs every year because employers are providing cost of living increases? and if so how many jobs are lost every year? How would raising the minimum wage decrease jobs and not cost of living raises for non minimum wage jobs?

    1. Pam3 months ago

      Why should there be different wages for the same work? That does not seem fair to the individuals under 18. For those over 18, the wages are, and have always been in direct proportion to skill level. It should remain that way. The more skills acquired, the more the wage increases.

      1. John2 months ago

        Increase your value in the marketplace, make more money.

  27. Sandy – Julesburg, CO5 months ago

    I, personally, know a great many single mothers who work for minimum wage. They attempt to feed their children, pay for daycare, and live in half-way decent housing on $7.35 per hour. Yes, they could make better choices — but they didn’t. The only way these women survive is with the help of Social Services-basically, tax dollars. As states attempt to cut Social Services budgets, everyone suffers.

    Think of small children coming into a daycare and depending only upon breakfast, lunch, and snacks without having been able to eat anything at home.

    1. Reymark3 months ago

      5.35 is good enough. All the people here support their kids on that. And this is America too– Well, Saipan. The commonwealth of the United States.

    2. Pam3 months ago

      Yes, well it is unfortunate for single mothers. However, we need to find a way to encourage people to make better choices, not just supplement their income, which does nothing to discourage irresponsible behavior. Many of these women go on to have 2, 3 4 etc children with deadbeat dads. Where is the accountability??? I know some of these women. Some of them are completely unemployed and pride themselves on being stay at home moms. I didn’t have that option because I was actually working to help support my family, not asking for handouts.

      1. Befuddled3 months ago

        Bless you

      2. John2 months ago

        It’s a reward for bad behavior. But maybe that’s all they are capable of doing because they failed to take advantage of the education made available to them. Hey 1 is a mistake, 4 is a factory.

  28. Denny Rivera6 months ago

    Can we really count tipped workers as making at or below minimum wage? If anything, they make WAY more, and it’s undocumented, untaxed!

    1. Chuck3 months ago

      And your source documentation for this is……?

      1. Ryan F3 months ago

        The BLS confirms this.

        The 10th percentile of waiters and waitresses made $7.84 in 2013. Median hourly pay was $8.94. The 90th percentile made $14.33 per hour. Mean hourly wage was over $10 per hour.

        Counting all of these workers among minimum wage earners is careless and misleading at best. Even the 10th percentile is beating minimum wage by a considerable margin, and the BLS doesn’t look at such extreme ends of the earnings curve to tell us exactly how many of them only make minimum wage. It’s definitely less than ten percent, and just by eyeballing it I’d say it’s probably less than five percent.

  29. Mark Curran6 months ago

    How many people make within 20% of minimum wage.

    This article above, like many “statistic” based articles, is apparently meant to mislead. It does not say one word about those making very close to minimum wage, and they could tell you. Why don’t they?

    They don’t want to.

    It’s highly unusual, for example, for McDonalds to keep someone at minimum wage –perhaps five people at a given store make only that. But 40 of them might make within 10% of minimum wage, and very likely, only 4 people make over 150% of minimum wage

    The wat the article above is written, you would have no clue about that. If McD’s pays two cents above minimum wage — or one cent –this article would not tell you about them.

    When these guys distort, they know they distort, and they do it for a reason. They don’t want you to know whats going on

    1. Jed6 months ago

      It also ignores the fact that many of the most populated states have minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum.

      1. Justin5 months ago

        No it doesn’t, it specifically states, “Also, 19 states besides the District have minimum wages higher than the federal standard; people who’d be minimum-wage workers in those states aren’t included in the 3.55 million total.).” Did you even read the article?

        1. Morgan4 months ago

          No, Jed’s right. If it doesn’t include them, it ignores them. By definition.

          1. Adam Anders3 months ago

            ignore: refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; disregard intentionally.

            This article all BUT ignored them, as it most certainly did acknowledge them. It didn’t give you the details, but if we’re going to split hairs, let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about.

    2. Leroy3 months ago

      Right on!
      Exactly my observation.

  30. Jc Jones8 months ago

    I honestly hate to post a stupid question. When we talk about people earning the minimum wage, are we talking about people earning $7.25 an hour as a threshold? Are those earning say, $7.26 an hour not included in the numbers? What about those earning $7.75 an hour? Lets just be honest. The difference between $7.25/hr and $7.26/hr a year is $20.80 a year. The $.50 difference: $1,040. Then lets talk take home pay. $.50 cents an hour equals $86 a month. I’m just curious if the research includes any data for those slightly above minimum wage or not.

    1. Doug Eckelbecker7 months ago

      I’ll take an extra $86 per month

  31. Mike9 months ago – Implying tipped employees aren’t paid minimum wage isn’t entirely accurate.

    1. Ryan F3 months ago

      In practice, they aren’t. Even the 10th percentile of waiters and waitresses beats minimum wage by more than fifty cents an hour.

      While there are almost certainly tipped employees making minimum wage, I would be willing to wager that such workers represent less than five percent of the total.

  32. Howard9 months ago

    I would be interested in seeing the graph adjusted to show how much federal aid a person making minimum wage might receive, and how much it has changed since 1960.
    Since we are talking about a ‘living wage’ it implies its purpose is to help those who have to attempt to support a family on the wage. In that vein federal and state aid would add to the income.

    1. Uyen8 months ago

      Bureau of Labor Statistics and dig deeper. I’m doing research on this issue. There are many sources.

  33. Mike10 months ago

    I’d be more interested in statistics that show the financial situation of those working minimum wage jobs. The protests are about a “living wage”. What percentage of minimum wage earners actually have to “live” off their wages? I suspect the vast majority of minimum wage earners are supplementing household income, as I did as a teenager working for gas/party money.

    1. Titanium Dragon8 months ago

      About a third of people who earn minimum wage, and a bit over 40% of those who make below living wage, are the sole breadwinners for their household.

      1. Doug Eckelbecker7 months ago


      2. Kathy3 months ago

        I suspect that stat is exaggerated but I also suspect many sole bread winners will take a part time just to supplement their main income, often just temporary jobs, like those one might take at Walmart on weekends and evenings during holidays to get the extra money needed to buy Christmas gifts.
        I worked at Walmart for years and saw a lot of people doing just that.

    2. Miguel2 months ago

      53% of minimum wage workers are full time. And if not, many are working multiple part-time jobs that still pay minimum wage. You worked at walmart and believe people were simply supplementing a household income…you are terribly mistaken.

  34. Steve C1 year ago

    The reference to the percentage of workers at or below the minimum wage relative to the total number of workers is meaningless due to exclusion of states with minimum wages above the federal level. Just five of those states – California, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Massachusetts – represent over 25% of the nation’s employees, but no minimum wage workers in those states are acknowledged relative to the total labor market.

    Comparing the total number of workers in all states to the number of minimum wage workers in only some of them is making a comparison of dissimilar data; i.e., comparing apples to oranges.

    1. Drew DeSilver1 year ago

      The post was careful to state that it was talking specifically about the percentage of workers at or below the *federal minimum wage*. We kept the focus there for a couple of reasons. First, as one of our other commenters noted, the federal minimum acts as a uniform floor — it applies even in states that have no set minimum wage in their own laws, or one set below the federal minimum. A minimum-wage worker in Ontario, Oregon makes considerably more than a minimum-wage worker just across the border in Payette, Idaho; combining both sets of workers in the same analysis didn’t seem to make much sense.

      And as a practical matter, since we wanted demographic and occupational breakdowns of minimum-wage workers and those data come from BLS, we would had to adopt their definitions anyway.

      I do agree that If individual states with higher-than-federal minimums did the same kind of analysis, with the same definitions, in such a way that they could be readily combined with the BLS numbers, we’d have a fuller and more nuanced picture of the minimum-wage workforce in different parts of the country (I’d be interested, for example, to know how the demographic/occupational profile of minimum-wage workers in Washington State, for example, is similar to or or different from an otherwise-comparable state that has only the federal minimum.) But absent such data, it seemed to us that sticking with the uniform federal-level data made the most sense.

      1. Steve C1 year ago

        A statement such as: “In the Pacific region (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii), by contrast, only 1.5% of hourly workers earned the federal minimum or less” is of little value if you fail to note that the only state in that region in which it’s not illegal to pay employees at or below the federal minimum wage is Hawaii, which represents less than 3% of the jobs in the region.

        Similarly, the comparison between now and 1979 is pretty much meaningless because of the increased number of state laws mandating pay above the federal minimum wage, even if only by a few cents per hour. The fact that the percentage of workers earning federal minimum or below in the South Central region (which has no states with floors above the federal minimum) is virtually the same as the 1979 average suggests that in fact no demographic/job change has actually taken place over that time period in terms of the percentage of the workforce working for minimum wage. The statement “they make up a smaller share of the workforce than they used to” is probably due solely to state laws mandating higher pay. The data actually suggests that in fact the percentage of workers earning the legal minimum in the location they work in (whatever it might be) is probably unchanged.

        In fact, the majority of the apparently meaningful facts suggested by the article – regional and temporal differences in the percentage of minimum wage workers, etc. – appear to be primarily due to the impact of those laws rather than any demographic or economic factors. Ignoring that factor results in a study which is pure but of little value. (The demographics of the minimum wage workers and the industries they work in are probably valid observations, but that’s not particularly new or informative.)

      2. AC1 year ago

        You’re giving the impression here that you don’t understand the criticism of your statistical analysis. The original poster is right and these analytic errors in your article are not matters of opinion.

        1. Drew DeSilver1 year ago

          I totally agree that looking just at who makes the federal minimum by definition undercounts the total number of minimum-wage workers in states with higher-than-federal minimums. And in hindsight I should have noted that that would affect the regional percentages (although I did note at the end of the third paragraph that the BLS analysis I relied on excludes minimum-wage workers in states with higher-than-federal standards).

          I can’t say whether or not the fact that a smaller share of hourly workers earn at or below the federal minimum than 30+ years ago “is probably due solely to state laws mandating higher pay,” though I’m sure such laws are a factor. One would have to do a state-by-state analysis of job growth in states with and without higher-than-federal minimum wage laws to answer that question; while that would be an interesting and worthwhile piece of analysis, that’s not what I was trying to do here. The main intent of the post was to look at the demographic and occupational characteristics of minimum-wage workers, and those data come from BLS, which means they’re keyed to the federal minimum.

          1. Ron11 months ago

            To find out how many and which types of employment might be affected by the proposed change in the MW, can you look at who makes the proposed minimum wage or less?

            Might also be interesting see how much folks like these contribute to the tax rolls. But not just Federal Income Tax, as they probably pay none. They all will, however, pay state and local sales taxes, possibly state income taxes, vehicle registration taxes, federal and state gasoline taxes, … . Their monthly rent will allow their landlords to pay state real estate taxes, local home owner insurance, … .


        2. Dan10 months ago

          Steve’s analysis is also flawed. He took a number of statistical correlations and suggested a causual relationship with no data to back it up.

          He may well have valid points, but words like “probably” and “appear to be” with no roots in data don’t make the argument correct. He is just as guilty of the errors of interpretation as he suggests the author of this article is.

      3. DJ Crane10 months ago

        It would also help to see comparison of minimum wage with cost of living differences by states. Just as some international comparisons use the “Big Mac” as a comparative tool, it seems US minimum wage in some lower cost states could contribute to a higher standard of living than state minimums in higher cost states.

        More importantly, we should pay attention to “liveable wage” where a person who works 50 hours a week (at one or more jobs) or a couple who works a combination of 60 hours per week should earn enough support themselves and family – rent, food, clothing, transportation, and perhaps something toward retirement and college education. Spending too much time and attention on minimum wage at the very bottom of the compensation spectrum will keep the society from addressing a much broader and more fundamental disparity in pursuing “greatest good for greatest number” and aspirations that helped create and sustain our country.

    2. BpF10 months ago

      This complaint is like buying an apple and later complaining it is round and doesn’t taste at all like banana.

  35. Bill Bateman1 year ago

    I like your informational post.

    I find it interesting that many in the food business have a couple benefits that don’t “show”. #1 – they often have tips and those amounts are usually in excess of what’s reported #2 – most that I know eat food from the restaurant they work at a large discount that is not reported as an economic benefit.

    In the 2nd category I would suggest that a lot of commissions are paid in addition to the minimum wage base.

    I think the Government needs to stay out of this issue

    1. FDR1 year ago

      Your naivete about tips and the food industry is astounding. You don’t know that their part of their tips are withheld in the form of taxes thanks to St. Reagan’s policy of robbing from the working poor and middle classes to ingratiate the rich.

      You also don’t know that most sit down restaurants have a policy of pooling their tips so that 10 – 20 percent tip on the bill is actually split amongst the cooks, bus boys, hostesses, etc.

      Third, there is a percentage (approximately 20%) that don’t tip at all.

      1. Matt12 months ago

        While some of Steve’s comments are valid some are just picking the data apart to prove his view without much in the way of facts. The article is for the most part on point to the premise it s trying to illustrate. Not a lot of people make the federal minimum wage. Approximately $1.5 million. And you certainly should not include tipped employees as their average minimum is above the federal minimum. I have not talked to any tipped employees that average out to $7.25. If they do they move to a higher volume restaurant. I am not why withholding in tips is pointed out as bad by FDR. Certainly he should expect workers to pay taxes on their earnings. Which by the way many of them don’t as they get it back in refunds.
        So the article is correct – all this hub bub about the importance of raising the minimum wage is a waste of time as it impacts so few and is appropriate for entry level jobs. Minimum wage jobs are not meant to be the primary source of income to raise a family and in fact rarely is as you can see because most of the minimum wage earners are students or first year employees. One last point, wages are suppose to be set to be the fair price to pay for services rendered, not how much one needs to pay their bills. How much should you pay a high school student to ask you if you want cheese on your burger? It is not hard. I know, I did it for years while pursuing what would be my more permanent job to support my family.

      2. Cory3 months ago

        Having been in the service industry for a while, and knowing many people that have even more time under their belts, I have some bones to pick.

        What exactly is wrong with tips being taxed? I would think someone on your side of this argument would be all in favor of taxation of income.
        “Pooling tips” is a term used to describe all servers in a restaurant putting tips together and splitting them amongst themselves, usually breaking it down by the hour and multiplying by hours worked. “Tipping out” is the term used to describe paying off your bussers and barbacks, and almost always amounts to less than 10% of your tips.

        I don’t know where you get your numbers, but saying one out of five tables doesn’t tip at all is way off base. This isn’t an area that lends itself well to concrete stats, and is varied geographically, but I would estimate the number is closer to 2%, tops.

    2. Joe W.10 months ago

      One thing people seem to forget is that this data is talking about people who currently earn the minimum wage. If it is raised, it will affect more people. So the real need is now to compare the above data with the additional number of people that will be earning more.

      Secondly to address another point that was mentioned, it is extremely important to address the difference in service industry jobs that have tips and those that don’t. There is a growing trend in food service to have, “fast casual” restaurants, which are more like fast food, and workers tend not to be tipped, or if they are the tips are very low.

  36. Chris Peterson1 year ago

    I believe this article does a disservice to the discussion of the minimum wage in our society, given that it only focuses on those who earn at or below the FEDERAL minimum wage, but excludes those who are paid at or below their given STATE minimum wage. Thus, you are comparing two dissimilar data points (minimum wage workers in 1979 vs. today). I would’ve expected a more rigorous analysis from the Pew Research Center… if Mr. DeSilver could please post updated figures documenting those who earn at or below their state’s minimum wage, or at least note in his analysis that the drop between 1979 and today could be attributed to increases in state-specific minimum wages compared to the federal standard during that time, that would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Jess1 year ago

      “…it only focuses on those who earn at or below the FEDERAL minimum wage, but excludes those who are paid at or below their given STATE minimum wage. Thus, you are comparing two dissimilar data points (minimum wage workers in 1979 vs. today)…”

      State minimum wage laws vary. Five states have no minimum wage laws, and four states have a minimum wage below the federal rate. Employers in those nine states must pay the FEDERAL minimum wage. Another 22 states set their minimum wage right at the FEDERAL rate.

      19 states (and DC) have a STATE minimum wage that is HIGHER than the FEDERAL minimum. It is only those workers earning MORE than the FEDERAL minimum wage that are not counted here – and they shouldn’t be, because this is an examination of the purchasing power, by national average, of the FEDERAL minimum wage over time. It is NOT a comparison of the federal minimum wage to the wages paid in those states with a higher rate.

      The FEDERAL minimum wage and those STATE minimums are DISSIMILAR data points to compare for this purpose.

      Now, if you’d like to compare the minimum wage rate paid in Alabama (a state with no minimum wage) to that of California (a state with a rate higher than the federal minimum wage), then you also need to adjust for the relative local purchasing power of that wage – or you’ll once again be trying to compare apples to oranges.

      1. davidmurky2 months ago

        poverty in america is now at $16 hour, less is below poverty,were at
        same wages as 1960 that’s’ pretty much a depression 40 years in making,
        we need to increase wages for all Americans to live decently…