In Los Angeles, eight people are on a 15-day hunger strike to protest the city's hourly minimum wage, saying the rate should rise from $9 an hour to to $15.25 in the next four years. One is 19 years old and works at McDonald's; another is 46 and works at Burger King.
All of the hunger-strikers are women, which is representative of the majority of the country's minimum-wage earners, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study of the characteristics of American minimum-wage workers. The annual report found that 62.8 percent of all workers who earned the minimum wage or less were women. About 37 percent were men.
The report also found that, in 2014, 1.3 million workers earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and 1.7 million workers earned less than the federal minimum wage. That's a combined total of about 3 million American workers who earn the federal minimum wage or less.
Roughly 48 percent of workers at or below the federal minimum wage are younger people, between the ages of 16 and 24. And workers under 25 also make up about one-fifth of the workforce of hourly paid workers.
The study showed that 76.3 percent of workers making at or below the minimum wage are white, 17.3 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 15.4 percent are black. Two-thirds of workers earning the minimum wage or less are working in service positions, mostly in food preparation and serving-related jobs.
Minimum-wage workers also tend to have lower levels of education, as 23.1 percent of those earning the federal minimum wage or less have no high school diploma. This number, however, likely includes many of the teenagers earning minimum wage. About 9 percent of all workers earning at or less than the minimum wage have at least a bachelor's degree.
Where people live also appears to be a determinant of earning the federal minimum wage. According to BLS, many of the states with the highest percentages of workers making the minimum hourly rate resided in the American South, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. In 2014, voters in Arkansas opted to raise its state minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017, despite also electing a Republican governor and senator.
Recently, companies like McDonald's, Target, and Walmart have announced voluntary wage increases, and Seattle has worked to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Many Democrats have tried to sell raising the minimum wage as part of a way to boost working families' incomes. While some Republicans—like potential presidential candidate former Sen. Rick Santorum—have called for a raise in the minimum wage, Senate Republicans blocked an attempt to raise the federal minimum wage last year.
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Eric Garcia is a staff correspondent for National Journal. He previously was a transparency reporter for MarketWatch, where he reported on financial regulation issues. His work has also appeared in the Southern Political Report, Salon, the American Prospect and the New Republic. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and covered politics for its campus paper, the Daily Tar Heel.