by Ben Casselman
Minimum-wage jobs are meant to be the first rung on a career ladder, a chance for entry-level workers to prove themselves before earning a promotion or moving on to other, better-paying jobs. But a growing number of Americans are getting stuck on that first rung for years, if they ever move up at all.
Anthony Kemp is one of them. In 2006, he took a job as a cook at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Oak Park, Illinois. The job paid the state minimum wage, $6.50 an hour at the time, but Kemp figured he could work his way up.
“Normally, a good cook would make $14, $15, $17 an hour,” Kemp said. “I thought that of course I’d make a better wage.”
He never did; nine years later, the only raises Kemp, 44, has seen have been the ones required by state law. He earns $8.25, the state’s current minimum wage.
Stories like Kemp’s are becoming more common. During the strong labor market of the mid-1990s, only 1 in 5 minimum-wage workers was still earning minimum wage a year later.1 Today, that number is nearly 1 in 3, according to my analysis of government survey data.2 There has been a similar rise in the number of people staying in minimum-wage jobs for three years or longer. (For a more detailed explanation of how I conducted this analysis, see the footnote below.)3
Even those who do get a raise often don’t get much of one: Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2013 were still earning within 10 percent of the minimum wage a year later, up from about half in the 1990s. And two-fifths of Americans earning the minimum wage in 2008 were still in near-minimum-wage jobs five years later, despite the economy steadily improving during much of that time.4
The trend partly reflects the recession and slow recovery, which has broughtweak wage growth for nearly all workers. But it also likely reflects longer-run shifts in the economy that have eroded workers’ bargaining power, particularly for the less-educated. That sense of stagnation may be part of what is fueling the nationwide push for a higher minimum wage, which hasgained significant momentum in recent years. Voters in five states, including Illinois, approved minimum-wage increases last November,5 and several cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have passed significant wage hikes. Kemp has joined fast-food workers across the country in demonstrations demanding higher pay as part of the union-backed “Fight for $15” movement.6
Read the full article from FiveThirtyEight.