Municipal Government

$15 Minimum Would Give Almost Half of Americans a Raise

April 17, 2015
By Steven Wishnia

More than 40% of U.S. workers are paid less than $15 an hour, according to a report released Monday by the National Employment Law Project.

This 42% of the American workforce includes more than half of Afro-American workers and almost 60% of Latino workers, said the report, “The Growing Movement for $15.” About 55% of them are women. And contrary to the claim that most low-wage workers are teenagers in their first jobs, almost half—46.4%—are at least 35 years old. In two states, Arkansas and Mississippi, more than half the workforce makes less than $15.

“The idea that low-paid service jobs are only a stepping stone for teenagers or young people starting out in the workforce is plainly wrong,” NELP senior policy researcher Irene Tung said in a statement. “Many people are spending decades working in jobs that pay too little to survive—and the people who fill these jobs are overwhelmingly workers of color and women. The prevalence of low wages in many of our economy’s growth sectors is a national crisis, and one that industry leaders in these sectors must take greater steps to address.”

Several common and fast-growing occupations are overwhelmingly low-paid, the report said. More than 3 million retail salespeople make less than $15. In food-service and drinking places, 84% of front-line workers don’t reach $15 even after tips—a percentage that rises to 96% for fast-food workers. Neither do four out of five people doing front-line jobs in hotels and motels, as well as almost 90% of people working in home care and child care. Most of these jobs are done by women.

Surprisingly, the report found, about half of front-line automotive manufacturing workers make below $15. Not surprisingly, it found that outside the auto industry, the number of low-wage workers represented by unions ranges from 2% to 10%.

These low-wage jobs are also among the occupations projected to grow the most in the near future. But the report sees one reason for optimism: “Since November 2012, grass-roots momentum generated by the $15 movement has helped to push through dozens of state and local minimum-wage policies, raising wages for millions of workers,” it says. “In addition, some of our nation’s biggest low-wage employers, including Walmart, McDonald’s, T.J. Maxx and the Gap, recently announced pay increases for their lowest-paid workers. While these increases are modest, their public announcement demonstrates the effect of the $15 movement in highlighting soaring corporate profits on the one hand, stagnant worker wages on the other, and growing public demand for companies to increase pay.” ​

April 16, 2015

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