March 4, 2021

Wage Theft in Florida Will Persist Without More Vigorous Enforcement, Report Finds

The average wage theft rate more than doubled following Florida’s minimum wage increase in 2005 from $5.15 to $6.15 per hour

ORLANDO, Fla. - Unchecked wage theft, in the form of employers failing to pay employees the minimum wage, could keep countless Floridians from sharing in the anticipated benefits of Amendment 2’s gradual $15 minimum wage boost, according to a new report from Florida Policy Institute (FPI) and Rutgers University’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO).

In “Florida Policymakers Need to Reassess How the Minimum Wage is Enforced,” FPI and CIWO find that, in the 14-year period following Florida’s 2005 minimum wage increase, roughly 17 percent of low-wage workers in Florida — or about 250,000 Floridians per year on average — were paid less than the minimum wage. This is more than double the average wage theft rate between 2000 and 2005, the period right before the minimum wage was increased from $5.15 to $6.15 per hour.

The analysis also finds that:

  • The minimum wage has been largely unenforced for at least a decade in Florida.
  • Victims of wage theft lose 18 percent of the minimum wage to which they are entitled, on average, or $1.32 per hour.
  • Floridians in the state’s top industries (agriculture, service, and real estate) suffer the highest wage theft rates.
  • Black, Latina, and immigrant women are more likely to face wage theft than their peers.
  • If these violation rates persist, Florida could expect to lose an average of $25.3 million in sales tax revenue each year over the next six years.

“The fact that so many Floridians are being paid subminimum wages should send a clear signal to policymakers that a Department of Labor is needed to enforce wage laws and hold bad actors accountable,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “There are numerous positive impacts that will come with Amendment 2’s gradual minimum wage increase, including a reduction in pay disparities, but these can only be realized if employers are following the law.”

“How is it that Florida, a state of 10 million workers, employs no one to enforce the minimum wage?” said Professor Janice Fine, CIWO’s director of research and strategy. “New York, with a million fewer workers, has 115 full-time state investigators. Florida has none. And that's despite voters approving two minimum wage hikes. It should come as no surprise that our study finds stunningly high rates of wage theft, particularly affecting low-wage Black, Latinx, and immigrant women. These workers are, at the very least, entitled to receive the wages they are owed for the work they performed.”

The report was co-authored by FPI’s Alexis Davis and CIWO’s Daniel J. Galvin, Janice Fine, and Jenn Round. Galvin, a CIWO fellow, is also an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

CIWO, part of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, is a “think and do tank” that seeks to shift the balance of power toward greater economic and social equality.

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