Who Are the Minimum-Wage Workers of America?

Many are young and women, and they are likely to be employed in certain sectors, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A McDonald's employee sweeps up in front of a restaurant on the morning when thousands of people took to the street to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour in Brooklyn on April 15.
Eric Garcia
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Eric Garcia
April 28, 2015, 4:28 a.m.

In Los Angeles, eight people are on a 15-day hun­ger strike to protest the city’s hourly min­im­um wage, say­ing the rate should rise from $9 an hour to to $15.25 in the next four years. One is 19 years old and works at Mc­Don­ald’s; an­oth­er is 46 and works at Bur­ger King.

All of the hun­ger-strikers are wo­men, which is rep­res­ent­at­ive of the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s min­im­um-wage earners, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics study of the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of Amer­ic­an min­im­um-wage work­ers. The an­nu­al re­port found that 62.8 per­cent of all work­ers who earned the min­im­um wage or less were wo­men. About 37 per­cent were men.

The re­port also found that, in 2014, 1.3 mil­lion work­ers earned the fed­er­al min­im­um wage of $7.25 per hour, and 1.7 mil­lion work­ers earned less than the fed­er­al min­im­um wage. That’s a com­bined total of about 3 mil­lion Amer­ic­an work­ers who earn the fed­er­al min­im­um wage or less.

Roughly 48 per­cent of work­ers at or be­low the fed­er­al min­im­um wage are young­er people, between the ages of 16 and 24. And work­ers un­der 25 also make up about one-fifth of the work­force of hourly paid work­ers.

The study showed that 76.3 per­cent of work­ers mak­ing at or be­low the min­im­um wage are white, 17.3 per­cent are His­pan­ic or Latino, and 15.4 per­cent are black. Two-thirds of work­ers earn­ing the min­im­um wage or less are work­ing in ser­vice po­s­i­tions, mostly in food pre­par­a­tion and serving-re­lated jobs.

Min­im­um-wage work­ers also tend to have lower levels of edu­ca­tion, as 23.1 per­cent of those earn­ing the fed­er­al min­im­um wage or less have no high school dip­loma. This num­ber, however, likely in­cludes many of the teen­agers earn­ing min­im­um wage. About 9 per­cent of all work­ers earn­ing at or less than the min­im­um wage have at least a bach­el­or’s de­gree.

Where people live also ap­pears to be a de­term­in­ant of earn­ing the fed­er­al min­im­um wage. Ac­cord­ing to BLS, many of the states with the highest per­cent­ages of work­ers mak­ing the min­im­um hourly rate resided in the Amer­ic­an South, in­clud­ing Arkan­sas, Mis­sis­sippi, Louisi­ana, and Ten­ness­ee. In 2014, voters in Arkan­sas op­ted to raise its state min­im­um wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017, des­pite also elect­ing a Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor and sen­at­or.

Re­cently, com­pan­ies like Mc­Don­ald’s, Tar­get, and Wal­mart have an­nounced vol­un­tary wage in­creases, and Seattle has worked to raise its min­im­um wage to $15 an hour. Many Demo­crats have tried to sell rais­ing the min­im­um wage as part of a way to boost work­ing fam­il­ies’ in­comes. While some Re­pub­lic­ans—like po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate former Sen. Rick San­tor­um—have called for a raise in the min­im­um wage, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans blocked an at­tempt to raise the fed­er­al min­im­um wage last year.

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