Big Results for Workers in 2023

With a new year starting in a few weeks, it’s a good time to reflect on all that the Wage and Hour Division has accomplished for workers across the country, including the great progress we made in 2023. Our goal is to build on this momentum and do even more to protect workers’ rights in 2024.

Even though we are at historically low staffing levels, our enforcement staff and outreach specialists achieved significant results for America’s workers in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2023.

  • We recovered more than $274 million in back wages and damages for more than 163,000 workers nationwide.1948: 61M workers, 1,000 investigators. 2023: 165M workers, 733 investigators. 2012: 1,067 investigators, 34,000 cases. 2023: 733 investigators, 20,000 cases
  • We recovered nearly $15 million in back wages for more than 3,500 workers under the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts, ensuring that jobs on federally funded construction projects are good jobs that provide a path to the middle class.
  • Our investigations in the food services industry recovered over $29.6 million in back wages for nearly 26,000 workers. Those are hard-earned wages we put back into the pockets of some of America’s lowest wage earners, helping them support themselves and their families.
  • We significantly increased our efforts to combat child labor, concluding 955 investigations that found child labor violations affecting nearly 5,800 kids, and assessed more than $8 million in penalties for child labor violations.
  • Our outreach events provided compliance assistance and workers’ rights information to more than 450,000 people – our highest total in five years.

The Wage and Hour Division currently has 733 investigators to meet our duty to protect workers’ rights and promote compliance for growing numbers of workers and businesses. With approximately 165 million workers at 11 million workplaces covered by the laws we enforce, we must use our resources strategically and efficiently, with a focus on impact. 

I’m happy to report that in fiscal year 2023, our agency-initiated investigations in lower-wage industries recovered more than $1,100 in back wages per worker, the second-highest average in any year since 2009. Our strategic enforcement is focused on some of America’s most vulnerable workers in industries such as agriculture, construction, food services, health care, retail and others.

While we are proud of what we achieved in 2023, we know we could do much more with more resources. The agency’s history proves it. For example, in fiscal year 2012, the Wage and Hour Division had an all-time high of 1,067 investigators and we were able to conclude more than 34,000 cases. 

Between 2010 and 2023, the agency was nearly flat funded and we lost 29% of our investigators. Although we’ve been able to do some hiring during the Biden-Harris administration, we still haven’t received the funding levels the president requested in the FY2023 budget to allow us to meaningfully rebuild our staff and enforcement capacity. Only Congress can provide the necessary funding to achieve our mission.

The Wage and Hour Division is made up of smart, dedicated public servants who are eager to keep young workers safe and ensure all workers receive their hard-earned wages. We also know that most employers want to get wage and hour compliance right, and we’re committed to giving them the information they need to do so. With adequate resources, we could help even more workers and employers in 2024. We’re excited to continue this work and build on our momentum.

Jessica Looman is the administrator for the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on X/Twitter at @WHD_DOL and on LinkedIn