Tennessee Now Has The Country’s Largest Share Of Minimum Wage Workers

Nationally, union organizers have been pushing to raise the minimum wage, focusing much of their effort with fast food workers, who are asking for $15 an hour. Protesters march through Manhattan in this photo. Credit: All Night Images via Flickr

Nationally, union organizers have been pushing to raise the minimum wage, focusing much of their effort with fast food workers, who are asking for $15 an hour. Protesters march through Manhattan in this photo. Credit: All Night Images via Flickr

New numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics make Tennessee the top spot for making $7.25 an hour.

By the annual BLS figures, 7.4 percent of employees in Tennessee are paid the bare minimum. That’s an increase of 31,000 people from the year before, even as the national number of low-wage workers dropped.

“It’s hard to raise a family or maintain a lifestyle when you’re making less than $300 a week,” state Rep. Mike Turner (D-Nashville) told lawmaker in General Assembly before his bill to raise the state’s minimum wage by a dollar was killed for the year.

Business groups have fought any mention of raising the state’s minimum wage, even by a small amount.

Lobbyist Jim Brown of NFIB Tennessee argues most people holding such low paying jobs aren’t the family breadwinner, or they move up quickly.

“It’s a starter wage for the vast majority of people,” Brown says.

While Brown says his position is supported by studies from conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, he acknowledges there are some people stuck at the bottom rung of the pay scale. But he argues raising wages by law would do more to hurt businesses than help workers.

The title for largest share of low-wage workers bounces around from year to year. In 2012 it was Idaho, before that, Georgia.

Asked for comment, a state spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development points to some other government data.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita personal income rose more than 12 percent over three years – making Tennessee number one in growth for the southeast.

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