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How much do America’s minimum-wage workers actually earn?

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), joins a demonstration with striking McDonalds workers demanding a $15 minimum wage in Las Vegas, Nevada U.S
Reuters/Mike Segar
The fight’s gone local.
  • Michelle Cheng
By Michelle Cheng

Reporter based in New York

Published Last updated

The US federal minimum wage is becoming increasingly obsolete. In 2020, 29 states and the District of Columbia, which account for half of the US population, have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. In 2000, just 11 states were above the federal threshold.

And it’s not just states that are pushing up the minimum wage—there were 40 different cities and counties with local minimum wages above their state mandates in 2019, according to data from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a non-profit research firm. Some of these localities, like Los Angeles County and the city of Chicago, have millions of workers.

So what’s the average wage that the lowest-wage workers in the US actually make? Using data from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Quartz calculated that the average minimum wage across the US in 2019 was $9.39, over $2 more than the federal minimum wage. In 2005, there was just a 77¢ difference between the federal minimum wage and the average minimum people typically earn.

This story is part of a new series we’re trying, “The Thing,” in which we examine what a single chart can tell us about the global economy.

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