The Real Minimum Wage

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Illustration by Newsweek

Just as the official unemployment rate doesn’t give the whole picture, neither does the $7.25 minimum wage set by the federal government. While in some parts of the country even menial positions command more, there’s also a virtual army of the digitally desperate who will work for less—often far less.

To find out what pay U.S. workers will really accept for an hour’s work, and how that stacks up against other countries, NEWSWEEK turned to Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for freelance work operated by Amazon.com. In a weeks-long experiment, we posted simple, hourlong jobs (listening to audio recordings and counting instances of a specific keyword) and continually lowered our offer until we found the absolute bottom price that multiple people would accept, and then complete the task.

The results: some Americans settled for a shockingly low 25 cents an hour—while counterparts in nations like India and the Philippines expected multiples more. Of course, the results also partly reflect how many workers in each country compete for work on Amazon’s system. But even against other wired places like the U.K. and Canada, Americans desperate to earn even a pittance were the cheapest around.

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