Low wage America: People think minimum wage is for young workers but the average age of someone on minimum wage is 36. Half of Congress is made up of millionaires.

People have a hard time understanding the vast number of Americans working in low wage jobs.  There is a very real reason why dollar stores paint the heartland.  We also have 46 million Americans on food stamps.  One of the big issues that we will certainly hear about during this campaign season is the erosion of the middle class.  Even though the stock market is hovering near all-time peaks, the regular worker is feeling like the economy is pulling past them.  Since the recession officially ended in the summer of 2009, a large portion of the jobs added came in the form of lower wage segments of the economy.  There is now talk about boosting the minimum wage.  I think most people think that minimum wage only impacts teenagers trying to pocket some money for going to the movies on the weekend.  That is absolutely not true as the figures will highlight.

The scary numbers on minimum wage

Putting the politics aside, there are millions of Americans at the minimum wage threshold.  While the idea is that most are young and not needing the money, the facts are very different.

“(EPI) It’s a common myth that very low-wage workers—workers who would get a raise if the minimum wage were increased—are mostly teenagers working to earn extra spending money. The reality is that raising the federal minimum wage to $12.00 per hour would primarily benefit older workers. 89 percent of workers who would be affected by raising the minimum wage are at least 20 years old, and 37 percent are at least 40 years old.”

Those are some scary figures.  Here is some more data:

minimum wage america

The average age of the minimum wage worker is 36.  57 percent work full-time and 28 percent have children.  This is part of the new low wage America.  What people tend to forget is that many on food stamps are also working, largely in minimum wage jobs.  If you think this number is small just take a look at the latest figures for Americans on food stamps:

snap food

46 million Americans are still on food stamps.  That is a massive number of families and many with children one step away from abject poverty.  The bigger question that should be asked is:

-Why have we left the middle class slip away?

-Is this something beyond our control?

-Where are the gains going in this current economy?

It would be one thing if the gains were going to those who “worked” the hardest.  The notion of meritocracy is deeply rooted in our cultural narrative.  But in a good number of cases, we’ve become a bailout nation assisting the financially connected.  How so?  Bailing out banks for one with no strings attached.  We also have easy money that flowed back into the real estate sector to help large investors crowd out regular families.  Good luck being able to afford a tiny apartment on minimum wage.

I’m sure the debate about the minimum wage is going to get heated as we enter the 2016 election year but just know the above facts and figures.  The bigger issue at hand is that we’ve largely become a low wage nation.  Hard to know what families are going through when half of Congress is made up of millionaires.

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2 Comments on this post

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  1. Sabbie said:

    Thanks for the good stats and thoughtful analysis. It seems that raising the minimum wage is a band-aid or stop-gap measure, one that distracts from the real problem. These people are not so much lacking in skills as opportunity. Why don’t we provide them with opportunity instead of throwing them a bone of a few extra dollars while they are stuck in their same dead end job? The government needs to stop printing money to prop up assets, and start spending directly on programs that actually encourage job creation. And stop with this free trade madness.

    May 9th, 2015 at 9:22 am
  2. Mike Ballard said:

    We need to abolish the wage system and replace it with a system based on socially necessary labour time. Four hours in to producing wealth which ends up in the social store of goods and services gets you access to goods and services totalling four hours of labour time to make or do.

    May 10th, 2015 at 4:11 am

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