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August 22, 2003
2.2 Million Paid At or Below Minimum Wage in 2002
In the United States, about 3 percent of the 72.7-million workers paid by the hour were paid at or below the federal minimum wage in 2002, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Nearly 570,000 workers earned $5.15 per hour, the federal minimum wage, and another 1.6 million earned below that mark.

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The Labor Department notes that the sizable number of workers earning below the minimum wage does not necessarily indicate that employers paid those employees in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Some of the employees may have been exempt from the minimum wage provisions of the federal law. In addition, survey respondents may have rounded their wages down, with over 500,000 reporting hourly wages of $5.

The government's report found that about 46.6 percent of the workers earning at or below the minimum wage last year were 25 years old or older.

More female hourly workers than male hourly workers reported that they were paid at or below the prevailing federal minimum wage. Nearly 1.4 million women and about 800,000 men were paid at or below $5.15 per hour.

Among geographic regions, the South had the highest proportion of hourly workers making the federal minimum wage or less, according to the report. About 4 percent of hourly workers in the South earned the federal minimum wage or less.

The West had the lowest proportion of hourly workers who were paid at or below the federal minimum wage. About 2 percent of hourly workers in the West were paid at or below the level set by FLSA. In the West, five states have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage. In those states - Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington - the proportion of hourly workers earning the federal minimum wage or less drops to about 1 percent.

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