After serving our country, many of our nation’s veterans come home to low-wage jobs. In fact, of the more than 9 million veterans in the workforce today, over a million would see their wages go up if Congress were to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012. The bill, introduced by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in the Senate and Calif. Rep. George Miller in the House, would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.80 per hour in three increases of 85 cents, and then index it to inflation.
A few months ago, we released an analysis of the Harkin/Miller bill that showed that more than 28 million workers nationwide would see a wage increase as a result of the legislation (including the parents of more than 21 million children). Of these 28 million affected workers, roughly 1.1 million are veterans (655,000 directly-affected; 417,000 indirectly-affected)1. Here’s a full demographic profile of affected veterans.
The veteran population that would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $9.80 is similar to the overall population of workers who would be affected by the increase, yet there are a few noticeable differences:
- Unsurprisingly, given that the vast majority of service members are men, most affected veterans are men (88 percent), whereas the majority of the total population that would be affected (veterans and non-veterans) is women (55 percent).
- Education requirements for joining the armed forces and programs that enable greater college access for veterans (e.g., the G.I. Bill) result in higher levels of education among the affected veteran population, relative to the total affected population.
- Affected veterans tend to work more hours than the total affected population.
That so many veterans, with higher education levels and more work hours, would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage underscores the fact that most minimum-wage workers are not teenagers working part-time jobs for extra spending money, as some minimum-wage opponents claim. Moreover, it illustrates the reality that despite having endured some of the most challenging work and life experiences of any group of workers, many veterans are still exposed to low-wage jobs.
My point is not to single out any one group as more deserving of a raise than another. (In fact, I would argue that raising the minimum wage would be beneficial for nearly all workers, because the erosion of the value of the minimum wage since its peak in 1968 is one factor that has contributed to the enormous growth in income inequality.) Rather, it is simply to say that no worker should be paid a sub-poverty-level wage2, and the immediate benefits of raising the federal minimum wage would go to more people—and different people—than you might expect.
1. Directly-affected workers are those whose wages are between the existing minimum wage and the new minimum wage. Indirectly-affected workers are those whose wages are just above the new minimum wage. Their wages are increased as employers adjust overall pay scales.
2. The 2012 Department of Health and Human Services poverty-level income guidelines for a family of two (e.g., a single parent) is $15,130; for a family of three, $19,090. A full-time, full-year worker, earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, earns $15,080 annually.