NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 14, 2005

Many left-wingers enjoy spreading the notion that there are many U.S. households in which the highest-income-earner scrounges by on minimum wage. So when documentarian Morgan Spurlock ("Supersize Me"; "Thirty Days") and his ilk go on and on about how a household cannot survive long-term on mere minimum wage, they make a strawman argument, says Stuart K. Hayashi (Tech Central Station).

It's untrue that the majority of minimum-wage-earners go on making such low wages for years and years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • About 63 percent of minimum wage workers receive raises within one year of employment.
  • Only 15 percent still earn the minimum wage after three years.

Moreover, minimum wage earners comprise only three percent of all workers paid by the hour and only 1.8 percent of American wage and salary earners. Large numbers of minimum wage earners are young people: 27.5 percent are between 16 and 19 years old and those between the ages of 16 and 24 constitute 52.6 percent.

A 2004 study by Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser examined the percentage of minimum wage earners that came from households falling under the poverty line:

  • Only 5.3 percent came from homes that were below the official U.S. poverty line.
  • About 40 percent live in households where the total yearly income is at least triple the maximum amount of income a household can receive and still be classified as being under the poverty line.
  • About 63 percent of those who earn the minimum wage are not the highest income earner in their household.
  • Lastly, over 82 percent of minimum wage earners are childless or are not the highest income earner of their household.

Source: Stuart K. Hayashi, "Super-Sized Strawman," Tech Central Station, June 29, 2005; based upon: William J. Carrington and Bruce C. Fallick, "Do some workers have minimum wage careers?" Monthly Labor Review Online, May 2001; and Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser, "Raising New York's Minimum Wage: A Poor Way to Help the Working Poor," Employment Policies Institute, July 2004.

For text:

For U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study:

For Sabia and Burkhauser study:


Browse more articles on Economic Issues