An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year

Millions of Americans struggle to get by on low wages, often without any benefits such as paid sick leave, a pension, or even health insurance. Their difficult lives are made immeasurably harder when they do the work they have been hired to do, but their employers refuse to pay, pay for some hours but not others, or fail to pay overtime premiums when employees’ hours exceed 40 in a week.

This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to can be called wage theft; in essence, it involves employers taking money that belongs to their employees and keeping it for themselves. Amounts that seem small, such as not paying for time spent preparing a work station at the start of a shift, or for cleaning up and closing up at the end of a shift, can add up.  When a worker earns only a minimum wage ($290 for a 40-hour week), shaving a mere half hour a day from the paycheck means a loss of more than $1,400 a year, including overtime premiums. That could be nearly 10 percent of a minimum-wage employee’s annual earnings-the difference between paying the rent and utilities or risking eviction and the loss of gas, water, or electric service.

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(Issue Brief #385 – Download PDF)