Initially, the COVID-19 pandemic suppressed wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the December 2021 median wage recovered to prepandemic levels at $1,008 per week. However, this recovery does not take inflation into account. When adjusted to 1982-84 dollars, the median wage for December 2021 was $362 per week, down from $393 per week before the onset of the pandemic. Real, or inflation-adjusted wages, are still below prepandemic levels.
When looking at compensation by sector, there is much more variance. Although no data is available on low-wage work specifically, compensation in industries often associated with low-wage work and the worker shortage has shown substantial growth in the last year. The leisure and hospitality industry has increased total compensation by 8% over the last year. The service industry has increased total compensation by 7.1%. This is compared with the average compensation increase of 4% for civilian workers.
Thirty states, three territories and Washington, D.C., have a minimum wage above the federal minimum. In 2022, 25 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have increased or are set to increase their minimum wages.
Employee benefits fall into many categories, but the most common benefits tend to be health insurance, retirement help and paid leave. While health and retirement benefits are well established in the workplace, paid leave is a benefit with room for expansion. Paid leave encompasses family and medical leave as well as sick leave. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, states increasingly are requiring employers to provide paid family and medical leave as well as paid sick leave.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave covers longer-term care for oneself (medical) or ill family members or a new child (family). Paid family and medical leave supports workers by paying them partial wages for, generally, six to 12 weeks. Currently, nine states have mandatory family and medical leave.
Paid Sick Leave
Paid sick leave covers short-term health needs, like temporary illness and preventative care. It can also cover short-term care for oneself or a family member. Unlike paid family and medical leave, workers usually earn sick leave. It is typically accrued based on hours worked. For example, a worker may earn one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours of work. Currently, 15 states have mandatory paid sick leave.