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By Dave Umhoefer May 21, 2014

Tammy Baldwin says minimum wage workers are 35 years on average

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat in her first term, is a vocal supporter of raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 over a three- year period and then indexing it to inflation.

The issue was on her mind May 8, 2014 during an appearance on the Devil’s Advocates radio show (92.1 FM in Madison).

Baldwin was discussing the importance of a college education for earning better wages and gaining upward mobility.

"I just had to smile during some of these debates we had on the minimum wage and I’m sure we’ll have again," Baldwin said. "A lot of people pointed to and brushed it aside and said, ‘These are teenagers.’ "

She added:  "First of all, they’re not. The average person who gets the minimum wage in America is 35 years old. That said, even if it involves a lot of people who are young, when we look at the cost of college, don’t we want them to be able to join their parents in helping save some money for that opportunity?"

Let’s examine whether Baldwin’s correct that "the average person who gets the minimum wage in America is 35 years old."

Her press office pointed us to a December 2013 briefing paper by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank that has studied the $10.10 proposal.

"The workers who would receive a raise do not fit the stereotypes of low-wage workers: Among affected workers, the average age is 35 years old, nearly 88 percent are at least 20 years old, and more than a third (34.5 percent) are at least 40 years old," the  institute’s paper concluded.

President Barack Obama, who is pushing for $10.10, used the same lines -- and evidence -- less than two weeks before Baldwin.

In his April 26, 2014 weekly radio address, Obama said:

"Right now, there’s a bill that would boost America’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That would lift wages for nearly 28 million Americans across the country. 28 million. And we’re not just talking about young people on their first job. The average minimum wage worker is 35 years old. They work hard, often in physically demanding jobs."

PolitiFact National rated Obama’s comment about the average age Mostly False.

Both Baldwin and Obama were trying to counter wage-hike critics who have said that it’s primarily teenagers who work in minimum-wage positions.

Featured Fact-check

In April, we rated Mostly False a claim by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce that "typical minimum wage earners in America are teenagers living with their parents in middle-class families."

We found that by one definition of minimum-wage workers, teenagers make up the largest sub-group compared with other age groupings. But teenagers are less than a third of all minimum wage workers, and hard data is scarce on how many live in middle-class families.

Baldwin, too, tripped up here.

She framed her claim around people currently making the minimum wage.

But the EPI study that put the average age at 35 looked at the larger universe of all workers who would receive a raise from the boost to $10.10. Many are making more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but less than $10.10.

In fact, the EPI research also factored in people currently earning up to $11.10, on the theory that those workers would probably also be given raises if the minimum were set at $10.10.

So what is the average age of the pool of workers currently at the minimum wage, the group Baldwin mentioned?

David Cooper, who authored the EPI study, put the figure at 30 among those right at the federal minimum, based on his research.

It’s not that simple, though, because more than half the U.S. workforce toils in states that have raised the minimum wage above the current federally mandated $7.25, according to Cooper.

To address that, Cooper studied the demographics of workers "at or near their effective state minimum wage," defining that as within 3 percent of the minimum-wage level, Cooper told PolitiFact National in April 2014.

The average age is 31 in that group, Cooper found.

Our rating

Baldwin’s remarks contained an element of truth about the demographics of minimum-wage workers. But the average age of 35 holds for those who would benefit from a change to $10.10, not the group Baldwin spoke of -- current minimum-wage workers.

We rate her claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Podcast, Devil’s Advocates radio, Senator Tammy Baldwin remarks on minimum wage (starts at 4:30 mark), May 8, 2014

Interview with David Cooper, Economic Policy Institute, May 19, 2014

Email from press office of Senator Tammy Baldwin, May 14, 2014

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2013," March 2014

Economic Policy Institute, "Low Wage Workers Are Older than You Think," August 28, 2013

Economic Policy Institute, "Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would lift wages for millions and provide an economic boost," Dec. 19, 2013

PolitiFact, "President Obama says the average minimum wage worker is 35 years old," April 29, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "White House says most of those helped by its minimum wage hike are full-time workers, with average age of 35," April 8, 2014

PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says ‘the average minimum wage worker is 35 years old,’" April 29, 2014

PolitiFact, "Mitch McConnell says the minimum wage is for young people in entry-level jobs," Jan. 26, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker says minimum-wage jobs are overwhelmingly for young people," Jan. 13, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce says typical minimum wage worker is teen living with middle class family," April 20, 2014

PolitiFact, "Rob Portman says ‘about 2% of Americans get paid the minimum wage’" Dec. 8, 2013

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Tammy Baldwin says minimum wage workers are 35 years on average

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