Free Interactive Report

Decent Work and Economic Growth in the US

By 2030, Decent Work and Economic Growth –SDG 8, aims to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all. This includes ensuring equal pay, protecting workers’ rights, promoting workplace safety, reducing unemployment rates, and more. It also means supporting the employment, education, and training of young people under 24 years old.

Approximately 53 million workers between 18 and 64 (44% of all workers), were in low-wage jobs in 2019 with median annual earnings of $18,000.

Decent Work and Economic Growth in the US in Context

Sustainable economic growth can happen by creating decent jobs at safe and inclusive workplaces while also providing social protection and improving living standards for people at all stages of their lives.

Almost half of the world’s population still lives on less than $2 a day, and before the COVID 19 pandemic, 22% of youth (15-24) worldwide were not employed or in an education or training program.

In the US:

  • There are over 200 million people of working age (ages 15-64).
  • By 2030, one out of every five U.S. citizens will be age 65 or older.
  • Roughly 10% of the US population (34 million people) lives below the poverty line.

Minimum Wage in the US

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938, is the federal legislation that establishes the general minimum wage that must be paid to all covered workers (Congressional Research Service).

As of April 2021, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, which was last increased in 2009 (National Conference of State Legislatures).

The Brookings Institution found that in 2019, approximately 53 million workers between 18 and 64 (44% of all workers), were in low-wage jobs. Their median hourly wage was $10.22, and median annual earnings were about $18,000, which would put a family of three below the federal poverty line of $21,960 (Human Rights Watch).

In the US, five states lack a minimum wage law. 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage laws, but only 16 of them have minimum wage laws above the federal minimum wage.

Workplace Safety and Workers’ Rights

The International Labor Organization (ILO) identifies what it calls ‘fundamental principles and rights at work’ (US Department of Labor), which are:

  • Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
  • Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor.
  • Effective abolition of child labor.
  • Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Retirement and the Older Workforce in the US

In the US, Social Security provides a foundation to plan for retirement as well as social protection for workers who become disabled, or for their families if they die (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Many employers have shifted from offering traditional defined-benefit pension plans, which guarantee a certain benefit level upon retirement, toward defined-contribution plans (such as 401(k)s). Social Security, therefore, will be most workers’ only source of guaranteed retirement income that is not subject to investment risk or financial market fluctuations.

For 50% of people 65+, Social Security provides at least 50 percent of their income, and for about 1 in 4 seniors, it provides at least 90 percent of income. Without Social Security benefits, about 4 in 10 Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line.

Nearly 6 million children under age 18 lived in families that received income from Social Security in 2019. That number included nearly 2.8 million children who received their own benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers.

The average Social Security retirement benefit in June 2020 was about $1,514 a month, or about $18,170 a year.

While women make up half of Social Security beneficiaries in their 60s, 70% of beneficiaries in their 90s, and 96% of survivor beneficiaries, they tend to receive lower benefits than men, as a result of occupation(s), amount of time working, and the gender pay gap.

There is a significant racial retirement wealth gap, leading seniors of color to face more retirement insecurity than white seniors.

As of 2020, Social Security began paying out more than it takes in and will have insufficient funds to pay out promised benefits and expenditures by the mid-to-late 2030s. This is the result of:

  • The average life expectancy was slightly less than 70 years old in 1968 but has been steadily rising to reach almost 79 years old by 2016.
  • The population in 1968 was slightly more than 200 million but reached 323 million by 2016.
  • By 2030 1 in 5 U.S. citizens will be of retirement age, with the younger generations not growing at the same rate.

Therefore, more people will be reaching retirement age and living longer on average, using social security benefits more than they contribute to them and for a longer period of time, while fewer people remain in the workforce to contribute to social security.

COVID-19 and Individual Economic Mobility

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of unemployed Americans increased by more than 14 million, from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in the summer of 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, 74.7 million people have lost work, with the majority of jobs lost in industries that pay below-average wages (Human Rights Watch).

Among households making less than $35,000 a year, over 57% experienced income or employment loss during the pandemic, compared with 34.6 percent of those making more than $150,000 a year (Human Rights Watch). Among the same households, 25% of adults (11 million people) were also facing challenges with food insecurity.

Explore More Using our Interactive Report

This interactive report is continuously updated and it is free thanks to X4Impact Founding Partners. The report highlights some selected economic-growth indicators.

You can view minimum wage laws, trends on the minimum wage, and poverty-related statistics nationally, or by state. You can also understand the flow of money to fund nonprofits working on decent work and economic growth, as well as exploring by state the list of nonprofits that work on this issue.

Explore Key Indicators and Organizations Related to Work and Economic Growth
Darker colors means higher minimum wage in a State. Click on any state to see details on this and other indicators.
State Minimum Wage
(average across all states)
People Living Below
the Poverty Line
Age Group People Living Below the Poverty Line, by Age Group
Minimum Wage Over Time
(average across all states)
Social Funding for UN SDG-8
(forms 990 filed with the IRS)
Annual Income
Avg. Income
Educational Institutions & Vocational Programs
Annual Income
Avg. Income
Social Orgs & Community Development
Annual Income
Avg. Income
Revenue sources for these organizations
Top Nonprofit Organizations
Excluding Educational Institutions and Vocational Programs. Click on any organization name to see details including NTEE, EIN, and address.

The Negative Effects of the Lack of Individual Economic Growth in the US

While market dynamics are forcing many companies to offer a minimum wage of $15 or more, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour has not been raised in over 10 years. After adjusting for inflation, in 1968 a minimum wage worker earned $10.59/hour, and the minimum wage today would be over $22 per hour had it tracked productivity increases over the last five decades (Economic Policy Institute).

According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would

  • Lift the pay of 32 million workers or 21% of the US workforce.
  • Provide over $108 billion in additional wages, roughly $3,300 per person annually.
  • Raise earnings for 31% of Black workers and 26% Hispanic workers, and 59% of women.
  • Lift up to 3.7 million—including 1.3 million children—out of poverty.
  • Reduce government expenditures on public assistance programs between $13.4 and $31 billion.

Due to the close relationship of income and many other factors of life, tens of millions of households face multiple stress factors simultaneously, including no work in the previous week, income loss, food insecurity housing insecurity, or symptoms of depression. According to Human Rights Watch, in households with an annual income below $35,000:

  • One in nine adults experienced at least one of the stress factors listed above.
  • Three in five experienced at least two.
  • One in three struggled to manage three at the same time.

Measures of Success Towards Achieving Decent Work and Economic Growth, as Outlined by the UN (SDG Tracker)

  • Ensuring the hourly earnings are equal for equal work, regardless of occupation, age, sex, race/ethnicity, or disability.
  • Reducing the unemployment rate, by sex, age, and persons with disabilities.
  • Reducing the number of youth (aged 15–24 years) not in education, employment, or training.
  • Lowering the frequency rates of fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries, by sex and migrant status.
  • Increasing the proportion of jobs in sustainable tourism industries out of total tourism jobs.
  • Access to financial services, banks, ATMs, etc.


Minimum Wage: Some states’ minimum wage varies based on certain characteristics of the employer and employee(s). See the Department of Labor information for a detailed list of these variations.

States without Minimum Wage: For the 5 states with no state minimum wage, the federal wage is enforced, and is shown on the trend line. For states with a minimum wage below the federal wage, the value of the state wage is shown on the trend line, but the federal minimum wage is enforced.

Arizona Minimum Wage: In 1970 Arizona had a weekly wage instead of an hourly wage, which was substituted with the federal wage on the trend line.


  • State minimum wage laws and Minimum Wage value: X4Impact analysis of the National Conference of State Legislatures data and US Census Data.
  • Population living in poverty by age: Kaiser Family Foundation and X4Impact analysis of US Census 2020.
  • State minimum wage 1970-2021: X4Impact analysis of Department of Labor, National Conference of State Legislatures, and Tax Policy Center data.
  • Nonprofit-related data: X4Impact analysis of over 3.3 million records from the Internal Revenue Service -IRS 2018-2021

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