Even though the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009, most Americans are now covered by higher minimums set by state and local laws – from Los Angeles to New York state to Washington, D.C. Organized labor and anti-poverty groups continue to push for $15 an hour as the new standard for all workers paid hourly, though given Republican control of Congress that prospect appears dim.
Here are five facts about the minimum wage and the people who earn it:
1Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.68 (in 2016 dollars). Since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 9.6% of its purchasing power to inflation. Back in 2015, The Economist estimated that, given how rich the U.S. is and the pattern among other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “one would expect America … to pay a minimum wage around $12 an hour.”
2Less than half (45%) of the 2.6 million hourly workers who were at or below the federal minimum in 2015 were ages 16 to 24. An additional 23.3% are ages 25 to 34, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; both shares have stayed more or less constant over the past decade. That 2.6 million represents less than 2% of all wage and salary workers. (See more about the demographics of minimum-wage workers.)
4About 20.6 million people (or 30% of all hourly, non-self-employed workers 18 and older) are “near-minimum-wage” workers. We analyzed public-use microdata from the Current Population Survey (the same monthly survey that underpins the BLS’s wage and employment reports), and came up with that estimate of the total number of “near-minimum” U.S. workers – those who make more than the minimum wage in their state but less than $10.10 an hour, and therefore also would benefit if the federal minimum is raised to that amount. The near-minimum-wage workers are young (just under half are 30 or younger), mostly white (76%), and more likely to be female (54%) than male (46%). A majority (56%) have no more than a high-school education.
Correction: A previous version of the state minimum wage graphic reversed the colors of two states in the map only (the list was correct).
Note: This is an update of a post originally published in December 2013 and previously updated in July 2015.