4 things you didn't know about the minimum wage

The minimum wage has been a highly debated topic in recent years, with workers in industries including fast food and retail pushing for the standard to be raised to $15 an hour.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is less than half that amount, at $7.25 an hour, where it has been since 2009. Of course, 29 states, plus the District of Columbia and a number of cities and counties, mandate that higher hourly amounts be paid.

Still, while many parts of the country have higher minimum wages, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 52% of Americans favored increasing the federal minimum to $15 an hour. It's an issue that's divided across party line: Only 21% of Donald Trump supporters favor the idea, while 82% of Hillary Clinton backers support it. It's also a topic that breaks down differently across racial lines, with "large majorities of blacks and Hispanics" supporting it and 54% of whites opposing it, according to Pew.

Under a Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress, it seems unlikely that any significant increases to the minimum wage will happen on a federal level any time soon. Perhaps that would be different if elected officials in both parties considered the following four facts.

Minimum Wage Employee Fast Food
Minimum Wage Employee Fast Food

Image source: Getty Images.

It's not just young people who earn it

While there is a perception that minimum wage jobs go to teenagers working at fast food restaurants, that's only a piece of the picture, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 45% of the 2.6 million hourly workers who made federal minimum wage (or less) in 2016 were between 16 and 24 years old. Another 23.3% were aged 25-34, meaning that 31.7% of all hourly workers making minimum wage or less were over 34.

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Minimum wage means less these days

Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage had its peak buying power in 1968, when it was worth $8.68 in 2016 dollars. "Since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 9.6% of its purchasing power to inflation," according to Pew.

Some states are changing this

Not only do 29 states plus the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than the federal standard, but 12 automatically raise theirs based on a cost-of-living formula. States whose minimum wages exceed the federal limit require hourly wages of between $7.50 (in New Mexico) and $11.50 (in D.C.), according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

"Together, these states include about 61% of the nation's working-age (16 and over) population," according to Pew's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

A number of cities also have higher minimum wages than even their states. These include San Francisco ($15 by 2018), Seattle ($15 by 2021), Chicago ($13 by 2019), and San Diego ($11.50 by 2017), according to the National Employment Law Project.

This industry has the most low-wage workers

It will not surprise you to find out the restaurant and food service industry employs the most near-minimum-wage workers -- that is employees, who make more than the minimum wage in their state but less than $10.10 an hour. "The near-minimum-wage workers are young (just under half are 30 or younger), mostly white (76%), and more likely to be female (54%) than male (46%)," wrote Pew. "A majority (56%) have no more than a high-school education."

It's worth noting that restaurants, which employ 3.7 million of this type of worker, have some employees who are tipped. These figures do not factor that in, so it's possible that a number of these employees make more than near-minimum wage.

That's likely not true for the 902,400 grocery store workers, 650,200 department/discount employees, or 633,100 construction workers who qualify as near-minimum-wage workers. In addition, there are 562,900 people making less than $10.10 an hour working in elementary and secondary schools.