51.9 Million Workers in United States Earn Less than $15 an Hour

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A study by Oxfam America, an anti-poverty advocacy group, found that 51.9 million US workers, about 32% of the employed population, earned less than $15 an hour. [1] [2] [3]

Employees of color and women were more likely to earn less than $15 an hour: 47% of black workers, 46.2% of Hispanic workers, and 40% of women workers in comparison to 26% of white workers and 25% of male workers who earned less than $15 an hour. When demographics are combined, the discrepancies are even larger with 50% of women of color earning less than $15 an hour. While 58% of single parents found themselves in the same boat. [1] [2] [3]

State minimum wages also play a part. 45% of Mississippi’s workforce earned less than $15 an hour. Only Puerto Rico, an American commonwealth, had a lower-paid workforce, with 76.5% of workers earning less than $15 an hour. In Texas, where the minimum wage is $7.25 (the same as the federal rate), 60% of women of color earned less than $15 an hour. However, in Washington, DC, the minimum wage is $15.20 an hour, the highest in the country, and only 8.5% of the workforce was paid less than $15 an hour (due to a lower tipped wage). [1] [3]

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009. However, federal law allows some workers to be paid less than $7.25 an hour, including full-time students and some farm and home care workers. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers, generally restaurant workers, has been $2.13 an hour since 1991, a rate that assumes those workers will make up the wage difference in tips. [1] [2] [3]

The Biden administration raised the minimum wage for federal contractors and civilian workers in the United States in 2022 to $15 an hour. The administration also attempted to raise the federal minimum wage via the American Rescue Plan Act, but the raise was removed after the Senate parliamentarian stated the addition did not meet the guidelines for inclusion. [3]

Some estimates suggest between 22 and 23 million workers would be effected if the minimum wage were raised to $15. [3]

Discussion Questions

1. Should the federal minimum wage be raised? If yes, to what dollar amount? Explain your answer(s).

2. Should individual states be tasked with determining the minimum wage? Explain your answer(s).

3. Should workers currently excluded from the federal minimum wage be included? These workers include full-time students, some farm and home care workers, and tipped workers. Explain your answer(s).


1. Kaitlyn Henderson, “The Crisis of Low Wages in the US,” oxfamamerica.org, 2022

2. Gina Cummings, “The Federal Minimum Wage Hasn’t Risen in Almost 13 Years and US Workers Are Paying the Price,” cnn.com, Mar. 22, 2022

3. Tami Luhby, “Nearly One-Third of American Workers Make Less than $15 an Hour, Study Finds,” cnn.com, Mar. 22, 2022