biggest thieves

Wage theft results in more lost money in America than all robbery, burglary, larceny, and auto theft combined. The biggest thieves hide in plain sight.

A 2009 report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) used FBI estimates of how much American crime victims lose each year. Then, NELP juxtaposed that data with the amount that employers steal from workers each year in the form of minimum wage violations, overtime pay violations, rest break violations, and off-the-clock violations.

When combining all of the common types of theft in a given year — larceny, burglary, auto theft, robbery — Americans lose a little under $14 billion per year. However, that doesn’t even come close to the amount American workers lose in minimum wage violations ($23.2 billion), when employers force employees to work for less than the legal minimum wage, and put in unpaid time off the clock before and after a shift.

A 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Labor found that minimum wage violations in California and New York amounted to a loss of 37 to 49 percent of workers’ income. In those instances alone, an estimated 15,000 to 67,000 families were driven below the federal poverty line, with anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 more families already below the line driven deeper into poverty.

One of the most commonly abused labor laws is the federal overtime rule that anyone working more than 40 hours a week earns a time and a half hourly wage. The NELP study from 2009 found that among front-line workers in low-wage industries, nearly one out of five reported not receiving overtime pay despite putting in the hours.

While these studies are from the early years of the Obama administration, wage theft is still putting a noticeable hole in the pockets of low-wage workers. A 2017 study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that 2.4 million workers still lose roughly $8 billion every year to minimum wage violations alone (an average of $3,300 per year). Some of the biggest thieves stealing from low-wage workers include Jimmy John’s, Walmart, McDonalds, and Papa John’s.


Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based freelancer specializing in national and state government issues. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.

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