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Two new BLS reports on minimum wage workers and the working poor

This week I want to draw your attention to two important new BLS Reports. One is about the characteristics of minimum wage workers in 2013. Among the 75.9 million U.S. workers age 16 and older in 2013 who were paid at hourly rates, 1.5 million earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 1.8 million had wages below the federal minimum. Together, these 3.3 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 4.3 percent of all hourly paid workers. This remains well below the figure of 13.4 percent in 1979, when data were first collected on a regular basis. The report is full of interesting information about the characteristics of workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage, including age, gender, race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, level of education, marital status, state of residence, full- and part-time status, occupation, and industry.

Another new BLS Report provides a profile of the working poor in 2012. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 46.5 million people, or 15.0 percent of the nation’s population, lived below the official poverty level in 2012. Although the poor were primarily children and adults who had not participated in the labor force during the year, estimates from BLS show that 10.6 million individuals were among the “working poor” in 2012. The working poor are people who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force (that is, working or looking for work) but whose incomes still fell below the official poverty level. In 2012, the working-poor rate—the ratio of the working poor to all individuals in the labor force for at least 27 weeks—was 7.1 percent, little different from the previous year’s figure of 7.0 percent. The working-poor rate was still quite a bit higher than the rate of 5.1 percent in both 2006 and 2007, before the onset of the 2007–2009 recession. This report also is full of interesting information about the characteristics of the working poor and their families.