TEENAGERS? With...

TEENAGERS? With the minimum wage returning to the forefront of the political agenda, time's ripe to knock down the oft-deployed stereotype that it just affects a bunch of teenagers. Putting aside the general incoherence of that perspective (uh, why should teenagers be paid poorly?), it's simply untrue. The best work (PDF) on this subject comes from Heather Boushey at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. She analyzed the Survey of Income and Program Participation and found:

� The overwhelming number of minimum wage workers are adults. Fewer than one in five are under 20, and more than half are between 20 and 54. Let's repeat: over 50 percent are between 20 years old and 54 years old. 87 percent are over 20.

� The average minimum wage worker brings home 68 percent of their household's income. Many of them are supporting a family on nothing but the minimum wage, which is to say $10,500 a year -- well below the federal poverty line.

� The minimum wage can be sticky. For more than a third workers, three years after they start, they've received neither a raise nor a promotion. This is far more prevalent among middle-aged workers, who need the increased income the most.

� The percentage of the American economy relying on the minimum wage has dropped in the last decade. In 1992, 8.6 percent of men and 16.4 percent of women were stuck at the bottom, now it�s 5.6 percent and 8.6 percent respectively. Notice the drop in female reliance on the wage to 3 percent higher than men, down from 7.8 percent.

� Interestingly, workers in states with a minimum wage above the federal level are less likely to remain in a low wage job and more likely to advance upwards.

So most minimum wage workers are adults, and the positions can be sticky, which is to say that raising the wage will create a serious income subsidy for needy folks. Also important (but rarely mentioned) is that raising the wage will also increase the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit, as the EITC is tied to earnings and the deterioration of the minimum wage in comparison to inflation has harmed the EITC's worth.

--Ezra Klein

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