In 2019, 8,500 US employers committed wage theft, robbing workers of their wages and overtime. Workers lost $287 million due to this immoral practice. Some big American companies have also committed such thefts since 2005.

Wage theft now outnumbers all other types of theft in the country. It reached $482 million in the same year, more than 100 times the amount stolen in robberies. Even worse, many workers don't realize their employers are cheating them.

In this article, you'll discover distressing statistics on wage theft in the United States. Let's delve further and shed light on this issue!

Editor's Choice 

  • Workers are deprived of $19 billion in overtime pay every year.
  • Only 1 in 4 repeat wage theft offenders get fined.
  • Minimum wage violations cost 2.4 million workers $8 billion annually.
  • 58% of workers in the US experience meal break violations.
  • New York has secured more than $11 billion in wage theft recoveries between 2000 and 2020.
  • 72% of restaurants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act in Los Angeles. 
  • In 2021, the highest-ever class action settlement reached $3.62 billion
  • The top 10 private-plaintiff wage and hour class actions in 2019 were valued at $449.05 million.

Statistics of Wage Theft 2023

Wage theft costs workers $50 billion every year. About 1,114,074 low-wage workers experienced wage theft in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. This accounted for a $56.4 million total loss every week.  

The following are examples of many forms of wage theft, including but not limited to: 

  • Unpaid overtime
  • Minimum wage violations
  • Off-the-clock work
  • Illegal deductions
  • Employee misclassifications
  • Meal break violations
  • Understaffing
  • Stolen tips

No one wants their employer to steal their pay, so equip yourself with knowledge. This article's statistics will include industry-specific reports, damage, and legal actions.

Wage Theft Case Reports Statistics

Between 2017 and 2020, the Department of Labor recovered more than $3 billion in stolen wages. This case report shows the extent of wage theft and the urgency of addressing it.

To get an idea of how serious this issue is, take a look at these cases: 

1. Workers are deprived of $19 billion in overtime pay every year. 


Workers are estimated to be owed $19 billion in overtime annually. Overtime violations happen when an employer denies overtime pay to an eligible employee. Employers perpetuate an unjust system by not paying their employees their due wages.

2. Only 1 in 4 repeat wage theft offenders get fined. 

(CBS News)

The Wage and Hour Division rarely penalizes repeat offenders. Between 2005 and 2020, the agency fined only 1 in 4 repeat offenders. 16,000 employers have gotten away with not paying $20.3 million in back wages since 2005. 

3. Workers earning less than $13 per hour suffered a loss of $9.27 billion in wage theft. 

(Edilson Law)

Wage theft surpasses all other forms combined, including auto theft, bank robberies, shoplifting, and burglaries. It disproportionately affects workers making less than $13 per hour and has a threefold economic impact.

4. Minimum wage violations cost 2.4 million workers $8 billion.


Minimum wage violations cost 2.4 million workers $8 billion annually in the ten most populous states. This pay exploitation affects 17% of low-wage workers across all demographic categories.

5. More than $230 million in back wages were recovered for over 190,000 wronged workers in 2021.

(Scotth & Winters)

The highest amount was $36 million from the construction industry. The table below shows recovered back wages for several industries: 


Back Wages Recovered


$36 million

Food Service

$34.7 million

Health Care

$13.8 million


$13.4 million 


$8.4 million

Guard Service

$6 million

6. Victims of minimum wage violations are underpaid $64 per week.


It equals a $3,400 yearly underpayment for workers who work year-round. Florida (7.3%), Ohio (5.5%), and New York (5%) are the states where workers are most likely to earn less than the minimum wage. 

7. 58% of workers in the US experience meal break violations.


A meal break is an unpaid 30-minute period when an employee is off the clock. Among US workers, 58% experience meal break violations. 

Meal break violations reflect a widespread disregard for employees' rights. It deprives them of time to recharge and harms their physical and mental health.

8. New York has secured more than $11 billion in wage theft recoveries between 2000 and 2020.

(Working Now and Then, Good Job First)

New York stands out above the rest of the states battling wage theft. It has secured more than $11 billion in wage theft in 412 cases between 2000 and 2020.

It won settlements like $2.2 billion from BNP Paribas and $715 billion from Credit Suisse. The top 5 states that recovered more than $100 million in wage theft cases are:


Amount Recovered From Wage Theft 

Number of Cases 

New York 

$11 billion



$1 billion



$665 million



$632 million


New Jersey 

$339 million 


9. In 2019, WHD recovered a record-breaking $322 million in back pay for employees.

(Working Now and Then) 

WHD recovered a record $332 million in back pay for federal employees, averaging $1,000 per employee. Between 2014 and 2019, the department recovered over $1.4 billion in wage theft actions. This recovery inspires workers to hold employers accountable for wage violations.

10. About 8,500 employers were cited for taking $287 million from workers.

(The Center for Public Integrity)

In 2019 alone, 8,500 employers were cited for taking about $287 million from workers. However, the US Department of Labor rarely penalizes repeat offenders. 75% of employers were never fined despite breaking federal wage theft laws more than once.

11. Companies are prone to cheating immigrants and employees of color. 

(CBS News)

From 2009 to 2019, immigrants and Latinos were twice as likely to earn below the minimum wage. It emphasizes the need for workplace protections and fairness to address injustice.

12. Los Angeles has the county's highest wage theft ($1.4 billion) yearly. 


In Los Angeles, wage theft amounts to an estimated $26 million a week, or $1.4 billion annually. Even if a worker wins a case against an employer, only 17% receive payment. 

13. On average, the back wages for each employee were $1,393. 


In the fiscal year 2022, the Wage and Hour Department found that the average back wages per employee were $1,393. It is equal to 3.5 weekly paychecks for a retail cashier.

14. The total number of cases of minimum wage violations was 7,948.


In 2022, 7,948 minimum wage violations were reported, up from 2020. On the other hand, the total amount recovered in back wages decreased to $17,941,190 from $25,932,824 in the previous year.

15. The minimum wage violation in Florida affects 17% of low-wage workers.


17% (or 250,000) of Florida's low-wage workers are affected by minimum wage violations. Between 2005 and 2019, state workers lost an average of $1.32 per hour.

It represents a 20% cut in their legally owed minimum wage. Florida workers are also the most likely to suffer minimum wage violations. 

16. The Wage Theft Program in Miami-Dade has recovered over $2.29 million in owed wages. 


The Miami-Dade County Wage Theft Program received over 3,250 worker wage theft complaints from 2013 to 2018. The program recovered over $2.29 million in worker wages and penalties during that time.

17. 2.4 million New Yorkers were victims of wage theft annually.

(Popular Democracy)

An estimated 2.4 million New Yorkers are victims of wage theft annually and are cheated out of an accumulative $3.2 billion in wages and benefits. 

18. $2.35 million in back wages were recovered in 2022 in Illinois. 

(Illinois DOL)

In 2022, Illinois received a total of 3,437 complaints related to employers not paying their workers properly. A specialist in the Fair Labor Act was also able to complete 2,687 wage theft cases during that year.

Wage Theft Statistics per Industry

Wage theft seriously affects workers in all fields, regardless of job level or position. Some industries are frequent victims of this illegal act. 

The food service industry, in particular, has a high incidence of this serious violation. The Wage and Hour Division recovered $34.7 million for over 29,000 food service workers in FY 2021. 

Look at these shocking wage statistics from different US industries to illustrate the severity of wage theft:

19. 72% of restaurants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act in Los Angeles. 

(Wage Advocates)

Between 2006 and 2012, 72% of 1,800 investigated restaurants violated the FLSA. 9,500 employees were cheated of their wages out of $12 million, or about $1,263 per employee.

20. 14.3% of food and beverage workers are underpaid.

(Intuit, WHD)

Food and beverage workers have the highest minimum wage violation rate. This table shows the share of workers in select industries facing such violations:


Share of Workers

Food and drink service


Agriculture, forestry, fishing 


Leisure and hospitality 





21. Back wages for workers in the food industry amounted to $27.1 million in 2022. 


For not paying minimum wage and overtime, restaurants had to pay back wages and liquidated damages. In 2022, a federal court ordered two Boston restaurants to pay $195,680 for back wages and overtime. 

22. The most frequent filers of wage theft violations were food service workers.


In 2022, food service workers filed the most wage theft violations (3,840). Back wages for 22,531 workers totaled $27,142,447.

The top 5 industries of frequent filers were: 



Back Wages 


Food Services 












Health Care 








23. 93% of employers in the garment industry violated the Fair Labor Standards Act in California.

(Wage Advocates) 

A study of 1,500 clothing industry workers found that 93% of employers violated the FLSA. It is also worth noting that California's wage and hour laws are more stringent than federal laws.

Wage Theft Damage Statistics

Wage theft makes poverty and pay inequality worse in the United States. Millions of employees are cheated out of billions of dollars in their paychecks. 

Minimum wage violations increased poverty rates among workers who experienced wage theft by 22.9% in California and 40.6% in New York. 

Refer to the statistics below for more shocking wage theft damage statistics:

24. The poverty rate among workers below the minimum wage is over 21%.


The poverty rate among workers below the minimum wage in the ten most populous states in the country is over 21%. It is three times the poverty rate of those workers paid the minimum wage. 

25. A year of stolen wages equals 75% of a typical family's annual grocery bill.

(Cal Matters)

A year of stolen wages equals 75% of a typical family's annual grocery bill, exacerbating poverty. It deprives workers of their rightful wages, limiting their ability to support their families.

26. A worker is estimated to lose $51 in a week.

(Wage Advocate)

A worker is estimated to lose around $51 per week due to wage theft in LA, Chicago, and NYC. It amounts to an annual income loss of $2,634, or about 15% of the total earnings. 

27. In LA, Chicago, and NYC, wage theft affects an estimated 1,114,074 low-wage workers weekly. 

(Wage Advocates)

In Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, wage theft affected about 1,114,074 low-wage workers, resulting in a staggering weekly loss of $56.4 million. Among the 4,387 low-wage earners surveyed, 68% reported experiencing at least one wage violation.

Wage Theft Lawsuit Statistics

Wage theft lawsuits have raised awareness of the problem and its effects on US workers. The problem is so deep-rooted that many well-known companies have been in legal battles over wage theft claims.

The issue becomes apparent when over 450 major corporations have had to pay $1 or more in wage theft settlements. See below for more wage theft lawsuit statistics:

28. Most wage theft claims came from the southern part of California. 

(Cal Matters)

The most wage theft claims came from southern California in 2021. San Bernardino topped the list with 1,835 claims filed for that year. 

The top 5 places in California with the most wage theft claims are:


Number of Wage Theft Claims

San Bernardino 


Los Angeles


Long Beach 


Santa Ana


Van Nuys 


29. Over the last ten years, 1,000 wage and hour cases have been settled. 


In the last ten years, 1,000 Wage and Hour cases were settled, averaging 99 yearly settlements. The year 2016 had the highest settlement amount of $913 million. 

30. The top 10 private-plaintiff wage and hour class actions totaled $449.05 million.


The value of the top 10 private plaintiff wage and hour class actions in 2019 was $449.05 million. Here is the breakdown of the ten private plaintiffs: 

Settlement Amount 

Violation Case

$100 million 

Failure to provide meals and rest breaks 

$100 million 

Misclassified as independent contractors 

$98.8 million 

Mispresented the income 

$35 million 

Failure to pay proper overtime compensation 

$26 million 

Failure to pay proper wages for hours worked

$22.5 million 

Misclassified as independent contractors 

$20 million 

Misclassified as independent contractors 

$16.5 million

Misclassification of employees 

$15.25 million

Failure to provide proper rest breaks 

$15 million 

Failure to pay for preshift work 

31. Plaintiffs won 81% of the 271 wage and hour certification decisions in 2019.


In 2019, plaintiffs won the most class certification rulings in a decade. In 271 wage and hour certification decisions, plaintiffs won 199 of 245 conditional rulings.

32. In 2021, the highest-ever class action settlement reached $3.62 billion. 


Class action settlements peaked at $3.62 billion in 2021, surpassing 2020's $1.5 billion and 2019's $1.34 billion. It highlights the critical significance of this factor in wage theft cases. 

33. Over 500 companies were fined for wage theft.

(Working Now and Then, Good Job First)

In a report in 2018, 500 companies were fined over $1 million for wage theft, resulting in more than $9 billion in stolen wages. Many of these corporations were repeat offenders.

Walmart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other large banks and insurers were the most penalized. Here is the complete list:


Penalty Total 


$1.4 billion


$502 million

Bank of America 

$381 million

Wells Fargo 

$205 million 

JP Morgan Chase 

$160 million 

State Farm Insurance 

$140 million


$139 million 

United Parcel Service 

$138 million 

ABM Industries 

$128 million 

Tenet Healthcare 

$127 million 


$122 million 


$111 million

34. California workers filed 19,000 wage claims for $338 million in stolen wages.

(Cal Matters)

In 2021, California workers filed nearly 19,000 wage claims, seeking more than $338 million in stolen wages. Compared to 2020, the number of cases decreased, but the value increased. In 2020, there were 30,000 reported cases, totaling $320 million. 

35. 62% of filers experience illegal retaliation after making wage theft complaints.


Of those who filed wage theft complaints, 62% faced illegal retaliation, which included:

  • Threatening to contact immigration authorities
  • Firing or suspending work
  • Threatening to reduce pay

This stark reminder exposes power imbalances and emphasizes protecting workers who voice concerns.

36. The average duration of wage claim delays was 334 days. 

(Cal Matters)

The Labor Commissioner's Office must hear wage claims within 120 days and decide within 15 days. In 2021, the average wait time for a hearing was 334 days. Despite improvements from previous years, it is still far behind schedule.

The Bottomline 

Wage theft traps people and communities in poverty and limits upward mobility. Addressing this issue requires awareness, enforcement, and fair labor practices. 

Workers can only work toward a more equitable society where everyone can thrive and escape poverty by addressing wage theft.