5 Stats About Low-Wage Workers That Should Shock You

Thousands of fast-food workers and their supporters have been staging protests across the country to call attention to the struggles of living on or close to the federal minimum wage. The push raises questions about the economics of the minimum wage. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Since last November, the country witnessed a surge of demonstrations among low-wage workers who are demanding higher wages.

The most recent Labor Day fast-food worker walk outs in 35 cities, as well as Walmart protests in 15 cities, had a simple goal: to make the minimum wage $15 per hour.

Here are five more figures about low-wage workers and their minimum-wage increase demand that are nothing short of awful.

1. Only 30 percent of fast-food workers are teenagers

One of the major arguments in favor of keeping the $7.25 minimum wage is that most low-wage employees are teenagers working for a little extra cash and spending money. The reality is that the vast majority fast-food workers are adults over the age of 20, 70 percent to be exact. That percentage rises to 88 percent for low-wage workers across all industries. Adults who are low-wage workers are also typically earning about half their family’s income, meaning that fast-food and low-income wages are not for the purpose of ‘extra spending money.’

2. Low-wage workers are more educated than ever

Think the majority of low-wage workers (those who make less than $10 per hour) are uneducated? Think again. About 43.2 percent of low-wage workers have some college education, a college degree or an advanced degree. Comparatively, only 25.5. percent of low-wage workers had equal education levels in 1979. That means the number of low-wage workers who are educated has grown exponentially since 1979. Correspondingly, the rate at which low-wage workers have less than a high school degree has in essence shrunk in half, decreasing from 39.5 percent to 19.5 percent.

3. The CEO of McDonalds makes 580 times a full-time minimum-wage worker

A low-wage worker making minimum wage ($7.25) and who works 40 hours a week would make $15,080 per year. In contrast, the last CEO of McDonalds, Jim Skinner, made $8.75 million in pay in 2012. The number is even more stark when you consider that most minimum-wage workers make under $15,080 per year because they don’t always have the opportunity to work 40 hours a week. This one of the big reasons the U.S. has the fourth-highest economic disparity out of any OCED country, behind Chile, Turkey and Mexico.

4. The $15 per hour minimum wage is more than many skilled workers earn

The reality is that the $15-per-hour demand among low-wage workers now is tied to the minimum wage level of the 1963 March on Washington demonstrators, and such a level would provide low-wage workers with a livable wage. That said, it can appear high compared to some higher-skilled jobs in the U.S.. According to the Labor Department’s National Compensation for Safety, the $15-per-hour level would pay higher than an emergency dispatcher ($13.60) and a home health aide ($12). Also, jobs that pay around the $15 per-hour level include a preschool teacher, library assistant and a tailor.

5. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 6 million people out of poverty

A large reason that so many low-wage workers live in poverty is that the minimum wage has not been adjusted to account for the cost of living and inflation since it was last raised in July 2009. The peak value of the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation occurred in 1968 at $10.70, according a June 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service. Taking that into consideration, last year House Democrats submitted a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. The Economic Policy Group found that such an increase would bring six million people out of poverty. Further, 30 million Americans would earn more money because of such an increase, which would result in approximately a $32.6 billion net increase in economic activity through the 2015 phase-in period.