Monday, February 23, 2015

Demographic Characteristics of Minimum-Wage Earners

From The Heritage Foundation, "What is Minimum Wage: Its History and Effects on the Economy" by James Sherk, Testimony before
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee , United States Senate, June 25, 2013:
In 2011 and 2012, 3.7 million Americans reported earning $7.25 or less per hour—just 2.9 percent of all workers in the United States. Those who do work in minimum-wage jobs fall into two distinct categories: young workers, usually in school, and older workers who have left school. Most minimum-wage earners fall into the first category; just over half are between the ages of 16 and 24. The rest are 25 or older. Table 1 shows the characteristics of minimum wage workers overall, and broken down by age groups.

Demographic Characteristics of Minimum-Wage Earners
Source: The Heritage Foundation

Minimum-wage workers under 25 are typically not their family’s sole breadwinners. Rather, they tend to live in middle-class households that do not rely on their earnings—their average family income exceeds $65,000 a year. Generally, they have not finished their schooling and are working part-time jobs. Over three-fifths of them (62 percent) are currently enrolled in school. Only 22 percent live at or below the poverty line, while two-thirds live in families with incomes exceeding 150 percent of the poverty line. These workers represent the largest group that would benefit directly from a higher minimum wage, provided they kept or could find a job.

Adults who earn the minimum wage are less likely to live in middle- and upper-income families. Nonetheless, three-fourths of older workers earning the minimum wage live above the poverty line. They have an average family income of $42,500 a year, well above the poverty line of $23,050 per year for a family of four. Most (54 percent) of them choose to work part time, and two-fifths are married.

Many advocates of raising the minimum wage argue it will help low-income single parents surviving on it as their only source of income. Minimum-wage workers, however, do not fit this stereotype. Just 4 percent of minimum-wage workers are single parents working full time, compared to 5.6 percent of all U.S. workers. Minimum-wage earners are actually less likely to be single parents working full time than the average American worker. [Footnotes omitted.]

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