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Nine Things You Might Not Know About Minimum-Wage Workers


In debates over raising the minimum wage, it’s important to know who we’re talking about, CBPP Senior Fellow Jared Bernstein explains today in the New York Times’ Upshot blog.  His post lists nine facts about who earns the minimum wage and who would benefit from raising it from $7.25 to $10.10.  Here’s an excerpted version:

  • Minimum-wage workers are older than they used to be.  Their average age is 35, and 88 percent are at least 20 years old.  Half are older than 30, and about a third are at least 40. . . .
  • They’re split fairly evenly between full-timers and part-timers.  Most — 54 percent — work full-time schedules (at least 35 hours per week), and another 32 percent work at least half time (20-34 hours per week).
  • Many have kids.  About one-quarter (27 percent) of these low-wage workers are parents, compared with 34 percent of all workers.  In all, 19 percent of children in the United States have a parent who would benefit from the increase.
  • One in eight lives in a high-income household.  About 12 percent of those who would gain from an increase to $10.10 live in households with incomes above $100,000.  This group highlights the fact that the minimum wage is not nearly as well targeted toward poverty reduction as the earned-income tax credit, a wage subsidy whose receipt, unlike the minimum wage, is predicated on family income.

    Still, a minimum-wage increase does much more to help low- and moderate-income households than any other groups.  Households that make less than $20,000 receive 5 percent of the nation’s total earnings, for instance — but would receive 26 percent of the benefit from the proposed minimum-wage increase.

  • Most are women.  Women make up 48 percent of the work force yet 55 percent of the would-be beneficiaries of the increase in the minimum wage.
  • Most are white, but minorities are overrepresented.  Hispanic workers account for 16 percent of the work force but 24 percent of those who would be affected by the wage increase.  For African-Americans, the comparable shares are 11 percent of the work force and 15 percent of those who would gain from the increase.
  • They’ve got some schooling, though less than other workers.  Of those who would be affected by the increase, 78 percent have at least finished high school, about one-third have some college under their belts, and about 10 percent have graduated from college. . . .
  • Their earnings are a big part of their family budgets.  The average worker in this group brings home half of his or her household’s earnings; 19 percent of those who would get the raise are sole earners.  Parents who would benefit from the increase bring home an even larger share of their families’ earnings: 60 percent.
  • They’re in every state, but are overrepresented in the South.  Because most of the states that have raised their minimums above the federal level are outside the South, a national increase would have more bite there.  Workers in Southern states make up 17 percent of the nation’s work force but 21 percent of minimum-wage beneficiaries. . . .