Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2012

In 2012, 75.3 million workers in the United States age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.0 percent of all wage and salary workers. 1 Among those paid by the hour, 1.6 million earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 2.0 million had wages below the federal minimum.2 Together, these 3.6 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 4.7 percent of all hourly paid workers. Tables 1 through 10 present data on a wide array of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics for hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage. The following are some highlights from the 2012 data.

  • Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the Federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers paid by the hour, about 21 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 3 percent of workers age 25 and over. (See table 1 and table 7.)

  • In 2012, 6 percent of women paid hourly rates had wages at or below the prevailing federal minimum, compared with about 3 percent of men. (See table 1.)

  • About 5 percent of White, Black, and Hispanic or Latino hourly paid workers earned the federal minimum wage or less. Among Asian workers paid at hourly rates, about 3 percent earned the minimum wage or less. (See table 1.)

  • Among hourly paid workers age 16 and over, about 10 percent of those who had less than a high school diploma earned the federal minimum wage or less, compared with about 4 percent of those who had a high school diploma (with no college) and about 2 percent of college graduates. (See table 6.)

  • Never-married workers, who tend to be young, were more likely than married workers to earn the federal minimum wage or less (about 8 percent versus about 2 percent). (See table 8.)

  • About 11 percent of part-time workers (persons who usually work less than 35 hours per week) were paid the federal minimum wage or less, compared with about 2 percent of full-time workers. (See table 1 and table 9.)

  • By major occupational group, the highest proportion of hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage was in service occupations, at about 12 percent. About three-fifths of workers earning the minimum wage or less in 2012 were employed in service occupations, mostly in food preparation and serving related jobs. (See table 4.)

  • The industry with the highest proportion of workers with hourly wages at or below the federal minimum wage was leisure and hospitality (about 19 percent). About half of all workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage were employed in this industry, the vast majority in restaurants and other food services. For many of these workers, tips and commissions supplement the hourly wages received. (See table 5.)

  • The states with the highest proportions of hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage were Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Idaho (all between 7 and 8 percent). The states with the lowest percentages of hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage were Alaska, Oregon, California, Montana, and Washington (all under 2 percent). It should be noted that some states have minimum wage laws establishing standards that exceed the federal minimum wage. (See table 2 and table 3.)

  • The proportion of hourly paid workers earning the prevailing federal minimum wage or less declined from 5.2 percent in 2011 to 4.7 percent in 2012. This remains well below the figure of 13.4 percent in 1979, when data were first collected on a regular basis. (See table 10.)

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These data on minimum wage earners are derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly nationwide survey of households. Data in this summary are 2012 annual averages.

1 Data are for wage and salary workers age 16 and over and refer to earnings on a person's sole or principal job. Hourly earnings for hourly paid workers do not include overtime pay, commissions, or tips received. All self-employed persons are excluded whether or not their businesses are incorporated.

2 The presence of a sizable number of workers with wages below the federal minimum does not necessarily indicate violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as there are exemptions to the minimum wage provisions of the law. The estimates of the numbers of minimum and subminimum wage workers presented in the accompanying tables pertain to workers paid at hourly rates; salaried and other non-hourly workers are excluded. As such, the actual number of workers with earnings at or below the prevailing federal minimum is undoubtedly understated. Research has shown that a relatively small number and share of salaried workers and others not paid by the hour have earnings that, when translated into hourly rates, are at or below the minimum wage. However, BLS does not routinely estimate hourly earnings for non-hourly workers because of data concerns that arise in producing these estimates.


Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2012, Tables 1 - 10

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2012 (PDF)


 

Last Modified Date: February 26, 2013