Historically, Americans who didn’t attend college (or even those that didn’t complete high school) had an abundant job market available to them. Working as farmers or factory workers, unskilled laborers still made less than skilled workers, but they were able to make a decent living and, during many times in history, actually secure a middle-class lifestyle for their families.
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But, that is no longer the case. Today, minimum wage earners struggle to make ends meet. When a full-time worker brings home around $20,000 a year, it can be nearly impossible to pay for bare necessities, much less get ahead. Survival becomes the objective, and paying for rent, food, trying to keep a car on the road, etc., can feel like insurmountable obstacles to achieving any measurable progress.
It’s high time we update our understanding of minimum wage workers. A lot has changed in the last few decades.
Last month, The Economic Policy Institute released a fact sheet entitled It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage. It was based on data from a forthcoming paper from David Cooper of the EPI. Let’s take a look at some of the findings.
1. Only 11 percent are teenagers.
The study found that 89 percent of minimum wage earners in America are now over 20 years old. The average age is actually 36, and 37 percent are over the age of 40. The myth of the minimum-wage earning teenager working for a little extra spending money needs to be laid to rest once and for all. The majority of people attempting to survive on minimal incomes are adults, who work full-time, and have to support themselves (and often others) with their earnings.
2. 56 percent are women.
Not only are 56 percent of minimum wage workers women, but 28 percent of them have children that they provide for with their earnings. Even when families have two, or even three, minimum wage jobs, it’s difficult to pay the bills. It seems unjust that working full-time or more, no matter the nature of the job itself, results in such meager wages. We should also take into account the pressure this lifestyle puts on families. Battling exhaustion, chronic stress, and financial worries cuts deep. Not only are mothers struggling to pay the bills, they’re also having to live with the struggle itself day after day, and that takes a toll too.
3. 35 million workers would be positively impacted by an increase.
The proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would effect a huge number of people. In fact, 35 million workers would receive a raise alongside the federal increase. And if that statistic isn’t profound enough, consider this: one in four working moms would receive a raise if the minimum wage rose to $12 an hour. A change like that would surely make a huge difference for a lot of families and children.
Appeals to raise the minimum wage, such as the Fight for 15 and Fairness movement, have been heating up in recent months. Some argue that there could be negative economic effects if this type of legislation were to pass, but most agree that this is a necessary and fair step toward improving circumstances for millions of deserving, hard-working Americans.
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