Spotted among a few hundred people rallying outside the Capitol on Monday for a higher minimum wage: A bearded man in a jean jacket, with a bandana on his head. A woman with close-cut gray curls and a gap where her top front teeth should be. A young man in a suit. Dreadlocks, ponytails, and mullets; baseball caps and cowboy hats and a lime green headscarf. Teenagers in hoodies, and one in a fishnet top with a leopard print bra underneath. Middle-aged women in pink hats.
With the Senate preparing to hold a procedural vote as early as Wednesday on a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, it’s worth considering what’s at stake in the debate—or rather, who. As the rally illustrated, it’s hard to point to a “typical” low-wage worker. Many are in the fast-food industry, the most unequal sector of the American economy. Others are in domestic work, or retail, or are bank tellers. Some are highly educated while others have not graduated from high school. One sure thing is that most aren’t kids making date money.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the workers who would benefit from a $10.10 wage floor are almost all adults, with an average age of 35. More than a third are older than 40. Many are parents; roughly one out of every five kids in America has a father or a mother who would benefit from the wage hike. Low-wage workers are also breadwinners, on average earning half of their family’s income. All told, nearly 28 million workers who would benefit from an increase to $10.10. A million of them are veterans.
“The minimum wage affects everybody,” a McDonalds employee named Dylan said at the rally, which also called for an end to corporate tax breaks. “The working class has always been huge, but more and more people have been pushed into it because of the economy and the recession. There aren’t a lot of options. Even if you can go to college, that’s not necessarily going to get you anywhere economically. So there’s a big diversity of people."
Dylan’s point is backed up by a new report from the National Employment Law Project, which found that in the wake of the financial crash, low-wage jobs have replaced higher-paying ones. Job growth was particularly strong in the food industry, retail and in administrative temp work. There are now 1.85 million more low-paying jobs than before the recession, but 2 million fewer positions in mid- and high-wage industries.