Economic Snapshot | Unions and Labor Standards

Wage Theft is a Much Bigger Problem Than Other Forms of Theft—But Workers Remain Mostly Unprotected

Wage theft—employers’ failure to pay workers money they are legally entitled to—affects far more people than more well-known and feared forms of theft such as bank robberies, convenience store robberies, street and highway robberies, and gas station robberies. Employers steal billions of dollars from their employees each year by working them off the clock, by failing to pay the minimum wage, or by cheating them of overtime pay they have a right to receive. Survey research shows that well over two-thirds of low-wage workers have been the victims of wage theft.

In 2012, there were 292,074 robberies of all kinds, including bank robberies, residential robberies, convenience store and gas station robberies, and street robberies. The total value of the property taken in those crimes was $340,850,358. By contrast, the total amount recovered for the victims of wage theft who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies was at least $933 million in 2012. This is almost three times greater than all the money stolen in robberies that year. Further, the nearly $1 billion successfully reclaimed by workers is only the tip of the wage-theft iceberg, since most victims never sue and never complain to the government.

Nevertheless, few local governments have any resources to combat wage theft, and several states have cut their labor department’s, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation. To learn more about the devastating costs of wage theft for America’s workers and ways to combat it, see EPI’s report An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year.

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