The US Federal Minimum Wage

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"What is the current U.S. federal minimum wage?" The answer to that question can be trickier than you might think. While the current US federal minimum wage was last set at $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009, your age, type of employment, even where you live can alter the legal minimum hourly wage your employer is required to pay.

What is the Federal Minimum Wage Law?

The federal minimum wage is established by and regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (the FLSA). In its final form, the act applied to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the US labor force. In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours.

Who Must Pay the Federal Minimum Wage?

Today, the minimum wage law (the FLSA) applies to employees of enterprises that do at least $500,000 in business a year. It also applies to employees of smaller firms if the employees are engaged in interstate commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, such as employees who work in transportation or communications or who regularly use the mails or telephones for interstate communications. It also applies to employees of federal, state or local government agencies, hospitals and schools, and it generally applies to domestic workers.

Details of the Federal Minimum Wage

The following details apply only to the the federal minimum wage, your state may have its own minimum wage rates and laws. In cases where state minimum wage rates differ with the federal rate, the higher minimum wage rate always applies.
Current Federal Minimum Wage: $7.25 per hour (as of July 24, 2009) -- may vary under the following conditions:

  • Younger Workers: If you are under 20 years of age, you may be paid as little as $4.25 per hour during your first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment.
  • Students, Apprentices and the Disabled: Certain full-time students, student learners, apprentices, and workers with disabilities may be paid less than the minimum wage under special certificates issued by the US Department of Labor.
  • Workers Who Earn Tips: Employers who allow workers to keep tips must pay a cash minimum wage of at least $2.13 per hour IF they claim a "tip credit" against their federal minimum wage obligation of $7.25 per hour. In other words, if your tips plus cash wages do not equal at least $7.25 per hour, your employer must make up the difference.
  • Overtime Pay: Federal law requires payment of at least 1-and-1/2 times your regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.
  • Child Labor: An employee must be at least 16 years old to work in most non-farm jobs and at least 18 to work in non-farm jobs declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.
    Persons 14 and 15 years old are allowed to work before or after school in some non-manufacturing, non-mining and non-hazardous jobs IF: They work no more than - 3 hours on a school day or 18 hours in a school week; 8 hours on a non-school day or 40 hours in a non-school week. Work may not begin before 7 a.m. or end after 7 p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day, when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m. Different rules apply in agricultural employment.
  • Other Special Exemptions: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees are exempted from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA, provided they meet certain tests regarding job duties and responsibilities and are compensated "on a salary basis."

Minimum Wages in the States

By law, states are allowed to establish their own minimum wages and regulations. However, anytime the state minimum wage differs from the federal minimum wage, the higher rate applies.

For specifics and updates on the minimum wages and regulations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, see: Minimum Wage Laws in the States from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Most Americans Favor Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 67% of Americans believe the time has come for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15.00. Politically, 86% of Democrats favor the raise, compared to 43% of Republicans. However, more than half (56%) of Republicans with an annual family income of less than $40,000 support a $15 per hour minimum wage. Both lower-income Republican and Democratic households were more likely to support the $15 minimum wage than their more affluent counterparts. In addition, several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have made raising the federal minimum to or near $15 per hour part of their campaign platforms.

A March 2019 U.S. Department of Labor analysis, out of 81.9 million hourly-rate workers age 16 and older in the United States, 434,000 earned exactly the federal minimum wage, while about 1.3 million workers had wages below the federal minimum. Overall, these 1.7 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 2.1% of all hourly paid workers.

Enforcement of the Federal Minimum Wage Law

The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor administers and enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act and, thus, the minimum wage with respect to private employment, State and local government employment, and Federal employees of the Library of Congress, U.S. Postal Service, Postal Rate Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The FLSA is enforced by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for employees of other Executive Branch agencies, and by the U.S. Congress for covered employees of the Legislative Branch.

Special rules apply to state and local government employment involving fire protection and law enforcement activities, volunteer services, and compensatory time off instead of cash overtime pay.

For information on enforcement of state minimum wages and other state labor laws, see: State Labor Offices/State Laws, from the US Department of Labor.

To Report Suspected Violations

Suspected violations are abuses of federal or state minimum wage laws should be reported directly to District Office of the U.S. Wage and Hour Division nearest you. For addresses and phone numbers, see: Wage and Hour Division District Office Locations.

Federal law prohibits discriminating against or discharging workers who file a complaint or participate in any proceedings under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Longley, Robert. "The US Federal Minimum Wage." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Longley, Robert. (2023, April 5). The US Federal Minimum Wage. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "The US Federal Minimum Wage." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).