Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2009
In 2009, 72.6 million American workers age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 58.3 percent of all wage and salary workers.1 On July 24, 2009, the Federal minimum wage increased to $7.25 per hour from $6.55 per hour. Data in this report reflect the average number of workers earning the prevailing Federal minimum wage or less for the calendar year 2009 (those who earned $6.55 or less from January 2009 through July 2009 and those who earned $7.25 or less from August 2009 through the end of the year). Among those paid by the hour, 980,000 earned exactly the prevailing Federal minimum wage in 2009. Nearly 2.6 million had wages below the minimum.2 Together, these 3.6 million workers with wages at or below the minimum made up 4.9 percent of all hourly-paid workers. Tables 1-10 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 2009 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, nearly 19 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 3 percent of workers age 25 and over. (See table 1 and table 7.)
- About 6 percent of women paid hourly rates had wages at or below the prevailing Federal minimum, compared with about 4 percent of men. (See table 1.)
- The percentage of workers earning the minimum wage did not vary much across the major race and ethnicity groups. About 5 percent of white, black, and Hispanic hourly-paid workers earned the Federal minimum wage or less. Among Asian hourly-paid workers, about 4 percent earned the minimum wage or less. (See table
- 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 3 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 9 percent versus about 3 percent). (See table
- Part-time workers (persons who usually work less than 35 hours per week) were more likely than their full-time counterparts to be paid the Federal minimum wage or less (about 11 percent versus about 2 percent). (See table 1 and table 9.)
- By major occupational group, the highest proportion of workers earning at or below the Federal minimum wage was in service occupations, about 13 percent. About 6 in 10 workers earning the minimum wage or less in 2009 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 21 percent). About one-half of all workers paid at or below the Federal minimum wage were employed in this industry, primarily in the food services and drinking places component. For many of these workers, tips and commissions supplement the hourly wages received. (See table 5.)
- Among the States, Texas (9 percent), West Virginia (8 percent), and Alabama (8 percent) had the highest proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the Federal minimum wage. The percentage of workers earning at or below the Federal minimum wage was lowest in Oregon, Washington, and California (less than 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 in 2009, at nearly 5 percent, remains well below the figure of about 13 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. 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 2009 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. 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 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.
Minimum Wage Workers: 2009, Tables 1 - 10
Characteristics of Minimum
Wage Workers: 2009 (PDF)
Last Modified Date: March 1, 2010