Low-wage earners in the District of Columbia

We are often asked about the structure of the labor market and earnings of those who work in the District. The best data source for this is BLS’s State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, which we recently used when the Council of the District of Columbia was discussing increasing the minimum wage.

Here is what we found out about the District workers:

Of the approximately 626,000 workers in the District in the May of 2013, close to 80 percent make $20 per hour or much more. These are people in the sectors typically thought of as professional and business services; they are, lawyers, economists, architects, engineers, computer scientist or specialists, or are in business, finance or management occupations.

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Which workers earn $20 per hour or less? They are mostly in the service sector, working in food preparation or service, in retail, personal care, transportation, grounds maintenance, or healthcare support. For example, a quarter of the 48,000 employed in food services in the District earn less than $10 per hour and three quarters earn less than $20. These workers constitute 67 percent of those who earn less than $10 per hour in the District. The second largest group among these low-earners is those in sales-related businesses—approximately 2,500 of the 25,000 workers in sales related jobs earn less than $10 per hour. In addition, occupations such as social workers, grounds maintenance, construction, security, and administrative support generally command more than $10 per hour, but a substantive share of the workers in these areas earn $20 or less. For example, 90 percent of workers in grounds and building maintenance positions earn less than $20, and a quarter of construction, security and administrative workers have similar salaries.

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