As part of his economy-focused State of the Union address, President Obama made a rare pitch for raising the federal minimum wage.
At the current $7.25 rate, full-time workers earning minimum wage make an annual $14,500, while the federal poverty level for a family of two is $15,130. Some have argued that Obama should have called for an even higher wage floor -- he promised $9.50 in his 2008 campaign -- but regardless, the United States has one of the lowest minimum wages among developed economies.
As the International Labor Organization found in their most recent Global Wage Report, in most developed countries minimum wage workers make a much higher percentage of the median full-time wage. In France, for example, the minimum wage is about 60 percent of the average salary, while in the United States it's just below 40 percent. Only Japan and Spain trail the United States in how much the lowest-rung workers make, compared to all employees:
As the ILO puts it, the wide-ranging minimum wage levels "reflect different perceptions about the risks that minimum wages may pose in respect of the displacement of low-paid workers" -- meaning that some countries' policymakers don't worry as much about higher wages causing layoffs, which is a chronic complaint of U.S. minimum-wage opponents.
What's interesting is that minimum wage growth has declined across all developed economies over the past four years, so the United States is hardly alone in that regard. (It has only increased here from $6.55 to $7.25 since 2008).
The ILO writes that although governments used higher minimum wages as a type of social protection through 2009, as the recession worsened most policymakers either slowed the increase of minimum wages or froze them entirely.