IN PRINT: Enforcement of State Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws: Resources, Procedures, and Outcomes April 2012

Enforcement of State Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws:
Resources, Procedures, and Outcomes

Published in Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal

By Irene Lurie, Senior Fellow

James W. Fossett and Michelle N. Meyer

ABSTRACT: Recent studies showing limited enforcement of wage and hour laws in low-wage industries have focused primarily on the efforts of the federal government. Far less attention has been paid to understanding and comparing the resources and procedures of the state agencies enforcing their own minimum wage and overtime laws.

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Irene Lurie has written extensively and testified before Congress on welfare policy and the implementation of welfare reforms in the United States. The full article described here originally appeared in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, Volume 15, Number 2, 2011, co-published by Workplace Fairness, and the Institute for Law and the Workplace at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

To learn more about the states’ enforcement efforts, Lurie interviewed the administrators of responsible agencies in 18 states. She asked about staff resources, enforcement procedures, and what the laws become in practice — as measured by the volume of enforcement activity and the results of that activity.

The study found that many states have authority to protect low-wage workers that is equal to, and in some states even greater than, federal authority. State labor laws fill gaps in coverage left by federal law, and some raise the minimum wage above the federal level. It is state law that requires employers to pay their employees on a regular basis. Almost half the state agencies have greater administrative authority to recover unpaid wages, using procedures that could serve as models for the federal agency.

But while a number of states were aggressive in pursuing egregious violators, the majority enforced the law passively in response to workers’ complaints, and a few did not enforce the law at all.

States’ efforts to implement their minimum wage, overtime and wage payment laws varied greatly, more than the laws themselves. Like the federal government, the state agencies responsible for enforcing labor laws struggled with insufficient staff. But while their current capacity to enforce their laws is constrained by a lack of resources, their potential authority to protect low-wage workers is powerful and deserves greater attention by analysts and policymakers.


The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.