Almost half a million college graduates are working minimum-wage jobs, according to new government statistics.
There were 260,000 Americans with bachelor’s degrees earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or less in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ newest annual snapshot of minimum wage workers. Another 200,000 associate’s degree holders also worked for that wage.
These figures are sure to understate the total number of people with higher education degrees who are working minimum wage jobs because data does not factor in state minimum wage laws that are higher than the federal floor. That means that likely thousands of workers in the 21 states with higher minimum pay rates are likely also degree-holders.
The quarter-million minimum wage workers who hold bachelor’s degrees is down from a high of 327,000 in 2010, CNN notes, and is also the lowest number recorded by the agency since 2008. But it is more than double the number of four-year degree holders who worked for minimum wage in 2005, underscoring how gradual progress has been since the recession ended. Labor experts attributed the high number of overqualified minimum wage workers to the fact that those are the job categories that have seen the most growth in the sluggish recovery.
The glut of overqualified workers in minimum wage jobs is another piece of evidence against the common stereotype that such work is mostly done by teenagers who need to build a resume more than they need to earn an independent living. In fact, the vast majority of workers who would benefit from a minimum wage hike are adults who work to pay rent, cover hospital bills, and feed families. One in five American children has a parent in that group. Fast food workers — one of the largest subsets of minimum wage workers — are disproportionately black and female compared to the overall population.