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Op-Ed
 

David Cooper: A Million Veterans Would Benefit from a Minimum Wage Increase


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By: David Cooper, Economic Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 25, 2014 - We ask a lot of our armed forces. They serve our country in some of the most dangerous environments and difficult situations faced by any American. Yet having endured those experiences, too many veterans returning to civilian jobs find themselves in work that barely pays enough to live on. In fact, of the roughly 10 million veterans working in America today, 1 in 10—that's one million veterans—is paid wages low enough that they would receive a raise if the federal minimum wage were increased to $10.10 per hour, as proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.

Months ago, we released an analysis showing that increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would lift wages for 27.8 million workers nationwide. The one million veterans that would benefit from such an increase are a relatively small segment of this larger group, but the fact that a million former service members would benefit from raising the minimum wage should dispel the persistent myth that raising the minimum wage only benefits teenagers and students from affluent families. Not only is this an inaccurate description of the typical low-wage worker, but the veterans that would get a raise look nothing like this affluent teen stereotype and are, in some ways, noticeably different from the larger population of would-be beneficiaries from a minimum-wage increase.

- Unsurprisingly, the majority of veterans that would be affected by a minimum wage increase are men (80 percent), whereas the majority of the total population (veterans and non-veterans) that would be affected are women (55 percent). However, female veterans would still be disproportionately affected—they make up 20 percent of veterans who would be affected, yet only 14 percent of working veterans.

- Veterans who would be affected by a minimum wage increase are significantly older than the total population that would be affected. 40 percent of the veterans that would benefit are age 55 or older, and almost two-thirds are age 40 or older. Of the total population (veterans and non-veterans) that would benefit from an increase, 14 percent are age 55 or older and about 34 percent are age 40 and older.

- Given their older ages, it is perhaps not surprising that veterans who would get a raise are 50 percent more likely to be married than the larger group of workers that would get a raise under a $10.10 minimum wage.

- Veterans who would get a raise tend to work longer hours than the total affected population (59 percent full-time among veterans vs. 54 percent full-time overall).

- Veterans who would be affected by a minimum wage increase also have higher levels of education than the total affected population, with nearly 60 percent of affected veterans having some college experience, compared to 44 percent of the overall affected population.

No one should be paid wages so low that working full-time can still leave them below the poverty line, fighting just to get by. But the fact that so many of America's veterans—despite being older and having more education than the typical affected worker—are facing this reality shows just how far we've let the wage floor fall.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States. www.epi.org

 

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