In the midst of the Obama administration's latest push to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released an analysis showing the the percentage of hourly workers earning at or below the minimum wage is down to 4.3 percent, or 3.3 million workers. The decrease continues a trend of more than three decades, beginning with a high of 15 percent back in the early 1980s. The numbers have occasionally spiked in reaction to economic conditions, most recently in the so-called Great Recession from 2008 to 2010, but then resumed the downward direction.

Women's gains in this area have been even more dramatic, falling from around 22 percent in the early 1980s to about 5 percent in 2013. The percentage for men during the same time went from about 10 percent to about 3 percent.

The largest segment of the workforce earning minimum wage or below is in food preparation and serving (21.7 percent) whose wages are often supplemented by tips. Other industries represented in the survey include service occupations, such as healthcare and protective services (11.3 percent), and sales and related occupations (6.1 percent).

A related report from the BLS includes other facts about minimum wage workers:

  • Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.
  • About 5 percent of Black workers, 4 percent of White workers and Hispanic or Latino workers, and 3 percent of Asian workers earned the federal minimum wage or less.
  • Among hourly paid workers age 16 and older, about 10 percent of those without a high school diploma earned the federal minimum wage or less, compared with about 4 percent of those who had a high school diploma (with no college) and about 2 percent of college graduates.
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