Lax Enforcement Costs Workers $15 Billion in Wage Theft

Eighteen states and 20 cities raised their minimum wages on January 1. But many workers aren’t getting their raises because the federal and state governments don’t have the resources—and, all too often, just don’t care enough—to enforce minimum wage and overtime laws.

The result: an estimated $15 billion in stolen wages that are pocketed by the greediest employers, instead of being paid to the neediest workers. As an in-depth investigation by POLITICO found:

  • No Wage Cops on the Beat. Six states, all in the South, have no investigators for minimum-wage violations, while 26 states across the country have fewer than 10. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush even eliminated his state’s Labor Department for several years.
  • Feds Understaffed. The U.S. Department of Labor has only 894 investigators throughout the nation, compared to about 1,000 in 1948 when the workforce was much smaller and unions were much stronger.
  • Stolen Wages Never Recovered. Even when employers are found guilty of wage theft, 41 percent of the stolen wages are never recovered and repaid to the workers. The worst offenders are low-wage employers, including restaurants and cleaning and landscaping companies, that when charged with violating wage standards, often go out of business and re-emerge under new names.
  • Father of Four Cheated of Half His Pay. As this video reveals, the human cost is incalculable for workers who can’t support themselves and their families. In an all-too-typical instance of wage theft, iron worker Edward Gonzalez, the father of four young children, was robbed of about half his pay on a major construction project in downtown Cincinnati.