The Countries With the Highest Minimum Wage.
Recently, the federal minimum wage in the United States has become a hot-button issue. Various groups have protested and gone on strike demanding a $15 minimum wage. McDonald’s workers, for instance, went on strike in pursuit of higher pay. Meanwhile, retail and food-service businesses have been understaffed as they struggle to find enough help amid pandemic struggles.
Of course, states can set their own minimum wages, and many have set them higher than the federal minimum, and the majority of states have done so. However, five states haven’t set their own minimum wage, and the $7.25 federal minimum hasn’t increased since 2009.
All of this begs the question: Is this a uniquely American problem, or do other countries face similar minimum wage concerns? As it turns out, while the U.S. doesn’t have the lowest minimum wage, it is not in the top 10. That is as of 2020, according to OECD data.
In this gallery, where we have converted the minimum wages in other countries to U.S. dollars, we’ll take a look at each of the countries that have a higher minimum wage than the U.S., in addition to the U.S. itself.
Hourly minimum wage: $7.25
Annual minimum wage: $15,080
The federal minimum wage is a hotly contested issue in the U.S. While most states have set their own higher minimum wages, five have not: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Georgia and Wyoming have their own minimum wage, but it is actually lower than the current federal minimum.
One reason the federal minimum wage leaves much to be desired is the process of raising the minimum wage. According to Pew Research, the majority of Americans (62%) support raising the minimum wage. But doing so is difficult due to the way federal minimum wage increases work. The U.S. is one of only 17 countries that set the minimum wage by statute; in the U.S., this means minimum wage increases only pass if Congress passes a bill and the president signs it.
Hourly minimum wage: $7.27
Annual minimum wage: $18,253.11
Just ahead of the United States is South Korea with a $7.27 minimum wage. While that was only two cents higher than that of the U.S. in 2020, South Korea is increasing its minimum wage. In 2021, the minimum wage was 8,720 won ($7.60) per hour. Plus, South Korea already announced a 2022 increase to 9,160 won ($8) per hour. That increase will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
The $8 per hour pay for 2022 was a compromise for South Korea. Business groups in the country wanted an increase to $7.70, but labor groups wanted to increase it to $9.40. While labor groups did lower their expectations quickly, they eventually settled on the $8 per hour minimum for 2022.
Hourly minimum wage: $7.28
Annual minimum wage: $15,191.21
Spain was one of the countries that gave its citizens generous financial aid during the pandemic. Now, the European country is moving to close its wealth gap by raising the minimum wage. Spain’s minimum wage was just three cents higher than the American minimum in 2020. Now, it wants to increase its minimum wage by as much as €250 ($295) per month. If enacted, that would increase the current minimum of €950 to as much as €1200 per month ($1,417). That would put its annual minimum wage at about $17,000 per year.
Hourly minimum wage: $8.27
Annual minimum wage: $18,475.45
In 2020, Israel’s minimum monthly wage was 5,300 Israeli New Shekel and that amount remained unchanged throughout 2020. However, this is the first country on the list that begins to separate itself somewhat from the U.S. and other lower-ranked countries. But according to Trading Economics, in 2015, Israel had 700,000 workers who were paid less than minimum wage. That number is significant, especially for a country with under 10 million people in total.
Hourly minimum wage: $8.43
Annual minimum wage: $17,551.74
Japan’s minimum wage was $8.43, but it, too, is moving to increase its minimum. In fact, in the summer of 2021, a governmental panel in Japan voted to increase its minimum wage by a record 28 yen, to 930 yen. That is an hourly rate close to $8.50 per hour. If enacted, that increase would be the largest in Japan since 2002. In addition, Tokyo would have a minimum wage of 1,041 yen, or around $9.50 per hour. Rural areas would have a much lower minimum of 820 yen, or around $7.50 per hour.
Hourly minimum wage: $10.18
Annual minimum wage: $21,185.35
Canada is the first country on this list with a minimum wage over $10. In 2020, its minimum wage was $10.18 per hour. But Canada is another country that already has plans to increase its minimum wage. In fact, Canada will be increasing its minimum wage to the $15 amount that many Americans have demanded. That increase will take effect on Dec. 29, and will result in Canada having one of the highest federal minimum wages in the world. Much like the U.S., though, there is still the possibility that Canada’s provinces will have a higher minimum wage; in that case, the province’s minimum takes precedence.
Hourly minimum wage: $10.67
Annual minimum wage: $21,713.61
Germany, too, has increased its minimum wage several times in recent years. Its minimum wage sat at €8.50 ($10) in 2015 and is increased every two years, if not more often. To that end, Germany raised its minimum wage in both 2019 and 2020. Expatica reports that some groups are pushing for a minimum wage of €12, which is a little over $14. For now, though, the minimum wage in Germany remains at around $11.
Expatica also notes that minimum wage laws in Germany don’t apply to its growing number of freelance workers or to internships lasting fewer than three months.
Hourly minimum wage: $10.68
Annual minimum wage: $22,100.30
In 2020, Belgium’s minimum wage was $10.68, or one cent higher per hour than that of Germany. Belgium is somewhat unique in that it has both a federal minimum wage as well as wage standards set at an industry level through collective agreements. Thus, various committees across different sectors in Belgium set their own minimum wages. This includes industries such as cleaning, transportation, electricians and food. These minimums take precedence over the national minimum wage. However, if a given sector doesn’t have its own minimum wage, then the national minimum wage is used.
Hourly minimum wage: $10.95
Annual minimum wage: $24,673.73
Labor laws in The Netherlands do not lay out a specific hour minimum because, as the government says, the number of working hours can vary from one business to another. It only has monthly minimums, so its hourly minimums are “only indicative.” That being said, the government meets twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1 to review its labor laws. The country has collective labor agreements in which employees work 36, 38 or 48 hours per week. Thus, The Netherlands is less concerned with the hourly wage as it is with how much people make each month or year.
Hourly minimum wage: $11.01
Annual minimum wage: $22,912.82
The United Kingdom has both a minimum wage and a living wage, but they come with prerequisites. You must be “school leaving age” to be eligible for the U.K.’s National Minimum Wage. In general, this is age 16; however, in England, you must complete additional education or training until 18. In addition, the U.K. has a National Living Wage, which is available to those ages 23 and over. The U.K. has separate minimum wages for 23 and up, ages 21 to 22, 18 to 20, under 18, and apprentices.
Hourly minimum wage: $11.51
Annual minimum wage: $23,947.75
Ireland’s minimum wage was €10.20 as of the beginning of 2021 (about $12). However, its minimum wage comes with some caveats. One major caveat is, like the United Kingdom, there are lower rates for those under the age of 20:
Minimum wage, age 19: €9.18
Minimum wage, age 18: €8.16
Minimum wage, under 18: €7.14
Prior to March of 2019, there were trainee rates in Ireland. Those have since been abolished. This was part of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 2018.
Hourly minimum wage: $11.59
Annual minimum wage: $21,099.84
In France, the minimum wage applies to all working adults without respect to age or experience. Like some other European countries, though, some sectors in France may set higher minimum wages through collective bargaining agreements. These agreements are between unions and employers and may increase the minimum wage for some sectors in France. The minimum wage in France increased in 2019, although minimum wage growth has been slow in recent years. Still, it has the fourth-highest minimum wage in the world.
Hourly minimum wage: $12.06
Annual minimum wage: $25,088.55
The minimum wage in New Zealand is among the highest in the world. While the above number is the OECD’s figure from 2020, the rate as of April 2021 is 20.00 NZD, or a little more than $14 per hour. However, there are lower minimums for trainees and a “starting-out” rate. The latter two are the same rate of 16.00 NZD per hour, or nearly $11.50 per hour. There is no minimum wage for those under the age of 16 in New Zealand. But once someone working turns 16, they must be paid the relevant minimum wage.
Hourly minimum wage: $13.53
Annual minimum wage: $26,743.10
New Zealand’s neighbor Australia has the second-highest minimum wage in the world. While Australia is not No. 1, the country that takes that spot is a tiny fraction of Australia’s size, both in physical size and in population.
In Australia, the minimum wage is reviewed annually by an independent commission. In 2021, it approved a 2.5% increase of the minimum wage to 20.33 AUD, which is about $15. However, different minimum wages may apply to certain classes of workers, such as apprentices and trainees and junior workers.
Hourly minimum wage: $13.79
Annual minimum wage: $29,358.88
Luxembourg is a small, landlocked country bordering Belgium, Germany and France. Although it has under 1 million people, it has the highest minimum wage in the world. That figure stood at $13.79 in 2020 but has increased since. Plus, it has higher rates for skilled vs. unskilled workers. The current hourly minimums are:
Skilled workers: €15.27 (about $18)
18 and over: €12.73 (about $15)
17-18: €10.18 (about $12)
15-17: €9.55 (about $11.25)
As you can see, even though Luxembourg has a much higher minimum wage for its skilled workers, even its minimum for those ages 15-17 is relatively high. After all, that is a full $4 higher than the federal minimum wage in the United States.