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What You Should Know About the Minimum Wage Debate

3.6 million Americans earn minimum wage.

 Proponents for a raise ($10.10 is the magic number) claim that an increase in the minimum wage would give low-wage workers more earnings to support themselves, their families, and the economy. The issue has appeared on ballots across the nation, and some states have implemented laws that would gradually increase the minimum wage each year. Minimum-wage earners aren't just 16-year-old kids, all types of people work for minimum wage. 3.6 million of them, in fact. So if the average worker isn't a teen, who are they? 

The average minimum-wage earner is a 35-year-old, full-time employee.

Do you think minimum-wage workers consist mostly of high school kids looking for extra spending money? Only 19.5% of workers paid at or below minimum wage are between 16 and 19 years old. The average minimum-wage earner is a 35-year-old, full-time employee. 

Roughly 88% of low-wage workers are adults.

Roughly 88% of low-wage workers are adults, and 53% are in a full time position. Most minimum wage workers are employed in service and hospitality industries. The top five occupations held are cashiers, retail workers, cooks, restaurant servers, and custodians. 

47% of minimum-wage workers live in the South.

47% of minimum wage workers live in the South. Florida is the only Southern state with a minimum wage higher than the national average. With 21% workers earning minimum wage, Southern workers would benefit the most from a wage increase. 

Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest minimum wages.

At $5.15 an hour, Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest minimum wage. Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee don’t have a statewide enforced minimum wage. Many states have laws that allow small business owners to pay lower than the state-mandated minimum, depending on factors such as the business’s yearly earnings and how many employees are on board. 

A minimum-wage worker must work an average of 2.6 jobs to rent a 2 bedroom apartment.

According to National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a minimum-wage worker must work an average of 2.6 full-time jobs to rent a two-bedroom apartment without exceeding 30% of their income, the standard advice for renters. The standard of living varies among the United States, but that doesn’t mean a low-wage worker can have a 40 hour work week and still make ends meet. Arkansas and Montana call for 69 hour work weeks—and that’s the lowest average amount.  

The minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $1.60.

Although the minimum wage has only increased over time, its purchase power has stagnated. Adjusted for inflation, the worth of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. Set at $1.60, it had the purchase power of $10.75. The current minimum wage has about the same strength as it did in the early 1980s, which means today's minimum wage is one of the lowest in more than 50 years.