Wage theft and the minimum wage

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As Los Angeles considers a minimum wage increase, the question of wage theft remains.

Garment workers, restaurant workers, nail salon workers all receive minimum wage. And, sometimes even less. In fact, one study says one third of all workers earn below the state’s $9 minimum wage. Among these workers, women, undocumented workers, and minority workers get the worst of it. And, without more enforcement, the problem of wage theft won’t go away anytime soon, says Tia Koonse, legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center.

Often, it’s up to the worker themselves to fight to get their owed wages back. And a study from the National Employment Law Center found that only 17 percent of California workers who went to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and won their claims were able to recover any payment between 2008 and 2011. Sometimes employers suddenly disappear having dissolved their businesses after a claim is won.

Wage theft clearly affects the worker, who faces an uncertain future, struggling to put food on his table or pay rent, further increasing his dependence on social programs. But it also affects the California economy, which loses payroll taxes.

Download the NELP study on wage theft.

Listen to Tia Koonse on today’s Press Play.