NEW YORK (MainStreet) — September was a busy month for low-paid fast food workers. Between nearly nationwide protests that, according to The Guardian, erupted into 436 arrests, and a Chipotle near Penn State University shut down after the employees walked, we’re all starting to get it now: take this barely-above minimum wage job and shove it.
And while workers in the restaurant industry really do get a bum deal (A recent report from Economic Policy Institute found 43.1% live in or near poverty, while one in six live below the poverty level.), the recent uprising puts a spotlight on a bigger issue: minimum wage is horrible for everyone trying to make it on $7.25 an hour.
But who is everyone? The non-partisan think tank Pew Research Center recently looked into what minimum wage looks like in this country beyond the fast food industry. Here’s what the researchers found:
A Broad Look
Since 1940, minimum wage has increased from $0.25 per hour to $7.25, or in today’s terms from $3.40 to $7.25 – a $3.85 (adjusted for inflation) increase in 70 years.
Last year, there were 3.3 million workers living at or below the federal minimum wage. Of those, almost 1.8 million were workers currently exempt from the minimum wage rule – including full time students, workers paid in tips and the disabled – leaving 1.532 million people making minimum wage.
But it isn’t all bad news—the number of minimum wage workers has actually declined. In 1979, 13.4% of hourly workers and 7.9% of salary works were paid minimum wage. In 2013, only 4.3% of hourly workers and 2.6% of salary workers earned the federal minimum. These numbers also don’t include workers in areas with a state minimum wage that is higher than the federal.
When broken down by industry, the strikes start to make a lot of sense. More than 55% of minimum wage workers are employed in the leisure and hospitality industry. Of those, 47% are chefs, line cooks, servers and fast food workers. The second largest workforce of minimum wage earners is in the retail industry with only 14 percent, while the other 8% work in the health and education field.
If you live in the Northeast, count your blessings. Connecticut was the first state to pass a law raising their minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. Several other states in the area including Vermont, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey are also raising state minimum wages, making the Northeast the region with the most states to beat out the federal level.
If you live in the South, brace yourself: Florida is currently the only state in the area with higher-than-federal minimum wages.
In the West South region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, and the East South Central region, which includes Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, 6.3% of hourly workers make at or below the federal minimum level. In the South Atlantic region, 5.1% of hourly workers are making minimum wage or less.
When it comes to who makes minimum wage, how you work and who you are seems to make a difference.
Most minimum wage workers aren’t full-time, salaried employees – 64% of the 3.3 million work an hourly, part-time job.
Those newer to the workforce are also a target for low-paying gigs. Out of the total, 50.4% of minimum wage works are 16 to 24-years-old, while 24% are 16 to 19-years-old.
And race and gender play a part as well. Pew Research found 77% of those at or below the federal minimum were white and almost 50% were women.
--Written by Angela Colley for MainStreet