Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2002

According to Current Population Survery estimates for 2002, some 72.7 million American workers were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.6 percent of all wage and salary workers.1 Of those paid by the hour, about 570,000 were reported earning exactly $5.15, the prevailing Federal minimum wage, and another 1.6 million were reported with wages below the minimum.2 Together, these 2.2 million workers with wages at or below the minimum made up 3.0 percent of all hourly-paid workers. Tables 1 - 10 present data on a wide array of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics for these low-wage workers. The following are some highlights from the 2002 data.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bureau of Labor Statistics' data on minimum wage earners are derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a nationwide sample survey of households that includes questions enabling the identification of hourly-paid workers and their hourly wage rate. Data in this summary are 2002 annual averages.


1 Data are for wage and salary workers, excluding the incorporated self-employed, and refer to earnings on a person's sole or principal job.

2 It should be noted that the presence of a sizable number of workers with reported wages below the minimum does not necessarily indicate violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as there are exemptions to the minimum wage provisions of the law. Indeed, the relatively large number of workers with reported wages below the minimum in 2002 includes almost 500,000 hourly-paid workers reported as earning exactly $5.00 per hour; to some extent, this may reflect rounding in the responses of survey participants. The estimates of the numbers of minimum and subminimum wage workers presented in the accompanying tables pertain to workers paid at hourly rates; salaried and other non-hourly workers are excluded. As such, the actual number of workers with earnings at or below the prevailing minimum is undoubtedly understated. Research has shown that a relatively smaller number and share of salaried workers and others not paid by the hour have earnings that, when translated into hourly rates, are at or below the minimum wage. However, BLS does not routinely estimate hourly earnings for nonhourly workers because of data concerns that arise in producing these estimates. For further information, see Steven Haugen and Earl Mellor, "Estimating the number of minimum wage workers," Monthly Labor Review, January 1990.

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2002, Tables 1 - 10

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2002 (PDF 61K)

Last Modified Date: August 8, 2003

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