Workers are 46% more likely to make below $15 an hour in states paying only the federal minimum wage

The crisis of low pay is widespread throughout the United States and will remain so until federal and state policymakers prioritize the economic hardships of low-wage workers. Even after the rapid inflation of the past 18 months and the recent unprecedented wage growth for lower-wage workers, 21 million workers are still paid less than $15 per hour.

The problem is severe for workers in the 20 states that still follow the stagnant and outdated federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which hasn’t been raised in over 13 years and is now worth less in inflation-adjusted terms than at any point since 1956. 1 In those states, 19% of workers are paid less than $15 per hour, compared with 13% of workers in the 30 states and District of Columbia. As a result, a worker in one of the 20 states with a $7.25 minimum wage is 46% more likely to make less than $15 an hour than a worker in the other 30 states or District of Columbia with higher minimum wages.

Table 1

Workers in states paying only the federal minimum wage are much more likely to be paid less than $15 per hour

Share of workers paid less than $15 Number of workers paid less that $15
States (and DC) that have a minimum wage higher than $7.25 13% 11,345,000
States where the minimum wage is $7.25 19% 9,768,000

Source: Authors' analysis of EPI Current Population Survey microdata extracts, December 2021–November 2022 Current Population Survey. 

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According to EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, there is no part of this country where even a single adult without children can achieve an adequate standard of living with a wage of less than $15 an hour.

With the lack of Congressional action, the federal minimum wage has lost more than a third of its value since its inflation-adjusted high point of 1968. Policymakers in the 20 states following the federal minimum should not wait for Congress to pass a minimum wage increase and begin raising workers’ wages now.


1. Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. (source: EPI’s Minimum Wage Tracker)