The Minimum Wage Workers By State

Just over 1.8 million American workers earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or less in 2017, according to Labor Department estimates. This group collectively represents about 2.3 percent of all hourly workers. Most of these low-wage workers are tipped employees exempt from the $7.25 hourly minimum rate. Full-time students and certain other categories of workers are also exempt.

Numbers of minimum-wage workers are much more prevalent in some states than others. The most recent 2017 federal estimates suggest employees earning the federal minimum wage or less are most prevalent in Kentucky (4.4 percent), Mississippi (4.1 percent) and Tennessee (4.1 percent). These workers were least common in California, where they accounted for just 0.5 percent of the workforce.

Several factors explain variations across states. Most notably, more than half of states have enacted their own minimum wage laws, some well above the national rate. Differences in cost of living and concentrations of various low-paying industries also influence how many workers make at or below the federal minimum wage.

The following map shows each state’s two-year average share of minimum wage workers as a percentage of all hourly workers for 2016-2017.

State Minimum Wage Workers: Historical Estimates

The last time the federal minimum wage increased, Barack Obama was only a few months into his first term as president and the country was mired in the depths of the Great Recession. Nearly nine years later, a small segment of the workforce is still earning $7.25 an hour or less.

The latest Labor Department estimates indicate that just over 1.8 million hourly workers were paid at or below the federal minimum last year. While that’s a small part of the overall workforce — a mere 2.3 percent of hourly workers — it makes up a larger portion in some states.The letter comes as a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, up from $7.25 currently, approaches a vote on the House floor after clearing a committee earlier this month in the Democrat-controlled chamber. Numerous cities and states have approved or are considering wage hikes, including Illinois, which this year adopted a law to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.