Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, running for re-election, touts the jobs he's helped create in Texas during his eight-year tenure. His Democratic opponent, Linda Chavez-Thompson, is skeptical.
"Perry and Dewhurst like to brag that while other states are hurting, Texas is creating jobs," Chavez-Thompson said May 4 to the Central Texas Democratic Forum. "But a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has brought... some clarity to that, stating that Texas, now, has the highest share of minimum-wage workers in the nation."
James Aldrete, a spokesman for Chavez-Thompson, shared a March 11 news release from the bureau, which states that last year, Texas had the nation's "highest share" of workers earning at or less than the federal minimum wage. The research was limited to workers paid by the hour, not counting salaried employees or people who are self employed.
Cheryl Abbot, the bureau's regional economist in Dallas, confirmed that Texas ranked No. 1.
Abbot, who crunched the numbers cited in the release, told us that among the states and the District of Columbia, Texas had the highest proportion of workers — 8.5 percent — earning at or below the federal hourly minimum wage. West Virgina had the second-most residents earning the minimum wage or less, at 7.8 percent, and Alabama followed at 7.5 percent. Oregon, Washington and California had the lowest percentages: less than 2 percent. (Some state laws exempt certain occupations from the minimum wage standard. In Georgia, for example, tipped employees, such as waiters, are exempt.)
The federal minimum wage last increased from $6.55 to $7.25 in July 2009. Before then, in 2008, Texas ranked 7th nationally with 4.7 percent of workers earning minimum wage or less, Abbot said. That year, Mississippi had the highest share of minimum-wage hourly workers, 6 percent, followed by South Carolina (5.9) and Tennessee (5.8). Oregon had the lowest share, 0.8 percent.
Across the United States in 2009, nearly 60 percent of workers — 72.6 million — were paid by the hour, according to the release, including 3.6 million earning minimum wage or less, or 5 percent of the hourly workers.
In Texas, the 5.6 million employees who earned an hourly wage in 2009 represented 54.3 percent of the state's workers, including salaried employees who earn a fixed annual sum, according to the news release. Nearly 475,000 Texans earned at or less than the federal minimum wage — more than double the 212,000 who were at a 60 cents lower federal minimum wage in effect in 2008.
Why did the Texas number surge? In part, because the federal minimum wage set by Congress has, too. From 1998 to 2006, as the minimum wage held steady at $5.15 an hour, the number of workers making at or below that amount declined slightly in Texas, except for a small uptick in 2003.
After Congress provided for increases in the federal minimum wage in 2007, 2008 and 2009, more Texans started falling below the wage floor. Workers in 14 other states and the District of Columbia didn't fall to the minimum-wage level or below because their mandatory minimum wage exceeds the federal level.
Per the bureau's latest data, Chavez-Thompson gets it right: Texas has the highest share of minimum-wage workers in the nation. Her statement is True.