If the federal government ever raises the minimum wage, it wouldn't help everyone -- immediately, at least. Although raising the floor reverberates throughout the wage scale, the vast majority of workers already make more than $7.25 an hour, either because they live in states that have set their own baseline higher or because their employer doesn't want to be known as sticking to rock bottom.
But there were still almost 3 million people who made the minimum wage or less in the United States in 2014. And,thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we know who they mostly are: disproportionately young, female, part-time, Southern restaurant workers without a high school degree.
Here are a few headline stats:
- Hourly workers under age 25 make up one-fifth of the total, but one-half of those who make the minimum wage or less.
- Five percent of women paid hourly make the minimum wage or less, compared with three percent of men.
- Seven percent of those without a high school diploma make the minimum wage or less, compared with two percent of college graduates.
- Ten percent of part-time workers make the minimum wage or less, compared with two percent of full-timers.
- Eighteen percent of workers in the leisure and hospitality industry make the minimum wage or less, the largest percentage of any industry sector -- predominantly in food services.
- Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee are the states with the highest percentages of minimum wage workers among those paid hourly.
- The South has 35.5 percent of the nation's hourly workers, but 47.4 percent of those who make at or below the minimum wage. The West has 23.5 percent of the hourly workers, but only 11.1 percent of the ones at or below the minimum.
Interestingly, although wealth inequality has widened along racial lines, it doesn't really show up at the very bottom of the income ladder: About four percent of both white and black hourly workers made the minimum wage or less, compared with three percent of Hispanics and Asians.