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A gauge on the minimum wage


FRED recently added more data about the federal minimum wage—specifically, who’s working for it. The top graph shows how many people are paid the federal minimum wage or less. A few points to keep in mind: Workers who receive tips can be paid less than the minimum, and states or localities can impose a minimum wage that’s higher than the federal minimum. So, the long-term decline we see here may reflect many things: states increasing their minimum wage, fewer workers in jobs that earn tips, or movements in the wage distribution. More-specific series and graphing options in FRED can provide some insight.

The middle graph shows the same numbers as above, but divided into education levels. We see that the share of the least-educated workers who receive the minimum wage is actually decreasing, while the share of the most-educated workers is increasing.

Why? The bottom graph shows absolute numbers instead of proportions, which may shed some light: The absolute numbers for the two lower levels of education are decreasing, but the absolute number for those with at least a bachelor’s degree is stable. The release table offers even more series, including one that shows those with a master’s or professional degree who are earning the minimum wage.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search for “federal minimum wage prevailing” and click on the series you want, which will be among the first choices. For the second graph, go to the release tables that show minimum wage workers by education, select the series you want, and click on “Add to Graph.” Start the sample in 2003, as some series are missing earlier data. Change the graph type to “Area” and set the “Stacking” setting to “Percent.” For the third graph, use the second graph but change the “Stacking” setting to “None.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann

View on FRED, series used in this post: BDAHC2, LHSDC2, SCADC2, T16OC2


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