Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2003

According to Current Population Survey estimates for 2003, some 72.9 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, 545,000 were reported as earning exactly $5.15, the prevailing Federal minimum wage, and another 1.6 million were reported with wages below the minimum.2 Together, these 2.1 million workers with wages at or below the minimum made up 2.9 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 2003 data.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS 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 2003 annual averages. Originally Posted: May 10, 2004.

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 2003 includes about 350,000 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 non-hourly 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 (PDF 415K).

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2003, Tables 1 - 10

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2003 (PDF 86K)

Last Modified Date: May 10, 2004

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