A Third of Workers Only Make Less Than $31K a Year, New Study Reveals

Millions of families are scraping by, barely, on half of what they need to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

dad buying groceries
Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock

A new study from Oxfam America, an anti-poverty advocacy group, highlights the reality that millions of people across the country earn less than $15 an hour — or about $31,000 a year if they work full time. The study also found that people who are disproportionately impacted by the low wages are people of color, women, and single parents. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/an hour.

Released on Tuesday, the study shows that one-third of workers – or nearly 52 million people – earn an annual income of less than $31,200. This works out to be less than $15 an hour, and it is disproportionately true for women and people of color in the workforce.

“It’s shameful that at a time when many US companies are boasting record profits, some of the hardest working people in this country — especially people who keep our economy and society functioning — are struggling to get by and falling behind,” said Kaitlyn Henderson, the study’s author, and senior research adviser at Oxfam America.

47 percent of Black workers and 46 percent of Hispanic workers made less than $15 an hour, compared to 25 percent of white workers. There was a similar divide when the study looked at female workers versus male workers, with 40 percent of females making less than $15 an hour compared to 24 percent of male workers.

When it comes to families, the study shows that 58 percent of single parents are among the group making less than $15 an hour. Many are making minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. And that pay rate has been stuck there since 2009, while inflation and the cost of living have steadily, and then rather sharply in the last few months, risen for decades.

This puts single parents in a vicious cycle of working full-time hours or juggling more than one job just to put food on the table and a roof over the head for their kids – and often still falling short each month. Though the minimum wage is different in many states (California’s minimum wage is $14 an hour, for example, while Louisiana’s is $7.25) this issue spans the entire country. Millions of people aren’t being paid enough money to be able to rent an apartment or afford where they live. Some parents are skipping meals and barely scraping by.

In the U.S., the childhood poverty rate is one of the highest among developed countries at 17 percent. This works out to be every one in seven children. Children are the poorest group in the United States. That’s a lot of families struggling when raising federal minimum wage alongside expanding other aspects of the social safety net, like reinstating the Child Tax Credit or finally passing paid leave, for example, could do so much good. And while the Biden administration is attempting to push through a federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour, it’s been squashed at every turn.

The studies and research are clear: higher wages help families thrive and it saves lives. Raising the minimum wage would help bring that one-third of workers — largely single parents, largely Black and Latino workers — into a financial world where they can live more stably and sustainably.