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Ten Numbers That Show How Pathetic The Federal Minimum Wage Is

Workers in jobs that pay the federal minimum wage make only $7.25 per hour, before taxes. Labor rights activists, lawmakers and employment attorneys across the U.S. state that this amount (and even slightly higher state-based minimum wage rates) don’t pay workers enough to cover life’s basic needs. President Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, but Republicans have resisted that proposal to raise the rate to $10.10 an hour over three years, arguing that businesses can’t afford to pay workers any more. They say that a wage increase would trigger devastating job losses while doing nothing to boost job opportunities or alleviate poverty.

Yet a significant new study from the Congressional Budget Office calls those arguments into question.

As the debate does on in Congress and in the states, here are 10 numbers to help put into perspective what it means to live off the federal minimum wage:


This represents the number of months since the last minimum wage increase, which occurred back in July 2009.


The number of months between each of the previous three minimum wage increases, which were $5.85 in July 2007; $6.55 in July 2008; and the current $7.25 minimum back in July 2009.


The number of states – almost half in the nation — that have raised the minimum wage higher than the federal rate. The most generous state minimum wage is currently here in Washington state, at $9.32 an hour – although this is still below the proposed federal minimum. A new ordinance in Seattle itself will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next 3 years.

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According to a Pew study from 2013, the federal minimum wage has lost 5.8% of its purchasing power to inflation since the last time it was raised. The National Employment Law Project reports that the “real” value of the minimum wage hit its high point in 1968; in that year $1.60 per hour rate would have been the equivalent to $10.50 in today’s economic terms.


 The level the minimum wage would have reached in 2012 if it had kept pace with worker productivity, according to a study published in 2013.


The number of American workers who earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour in 2013, according to Pew. Half of these workers were ages 16 to 24, and about one quarter were teenagers. About 64% of them worked part time.

Another 1.8 million tipped employees, full-time students, workers with disabilities and others with jobs exempted from federal minimum wage requirements made wages below the $7.25 rate. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers, for example, is $2.13 per hour. Without decent tips on a given night, it’s hard to imagine how they even make ends meet.


 The number of workers whose wages would go up if the federal minimum were raised to $10.10 over three years. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88% are older than 20 and nearly a third are over 40. National Employment Law Project shows that two out of every three low-wage workers were employed by large, highly profitable corporations – not the struggling small businesses that Republicans like to emphasize.


The number of people who would be lifted about the official poverty line if the $10.10 minimum wage plan goes through over three years, according to a study published late last year.

Interestingly, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that nearly 500,000 jobs may be eliminated if the minimum wage went to $10.10, though many other estimates suggest that the impact would be significantly smaller.


The estimated amount that a low-income, single-parent family will need to cover food, clothing, child care and other basic needs during the first year of a baby’s life. This number is calculated using 2013 data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That overall expense is much higher when housing, transportation and health care costs are also included. These figures indicate why a supplemental source of income (from other family members or associated individuals) and assistance programs are crucial to the survival of low-wage and minimum-wage earners.


 The number of hours a minimum wage earner would have to work to match the compensation package of Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in 2014. McMillon was presented with a $26 million offer this year, the majority of that in stock bonuses tied to performance – coming out to a 168% increase over the prior year. Yet McMillon isn’t the only Walmart exec to hit the income jackpot while lower-ranking workers barely scrape by: the previous CEO Mike Duke stepped down from Walmart in January with $140 million in deferred compensation through retirement funds, vested shares and stock options.

Walmart is the biggest private employer in the U.S., and earlier this year it announced that it wouldn’t oppose a hike to the federal minimum wage, provided that the proposal didn’t specifically hone in on the company’s specific business practices. Walmart’s president also noted that only 5,000 of its nearly 1 million hourly employees currently make the federal minimum wage, though a significant number earn far less than the $10.10 rate proposed in Congress.

Seattle Employment and Work Injury Attorneys

Of course low wages aren’t the only challenge faced by today’s workers. Many experience workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, a job injury, occupational illness or a third party injury. The employment attorneys and workers’ compensation lawyers at Emery Reddy have the knowledge and experience to help you get full compensation for your claim. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

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