The Value of Work

Director – Steve James
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Why is minimum wage important?
In 2013, Seattle became ground zero for the heated national debate about increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. "The Value of Work" gives voice to supporters and the opponents, including the mayor, an activist city councilwoman, small business owners, and minimum-wage workers affected by the unprecedented legislation.

Directed by Steve James
Producer: Elizabeth Stanton
Director of Photography: Dana Kupper
Still Photography: Kevin Horan
Editor: John Farbrother
Music: Joshua Abrams
Assistant Camera: Jackson James
Photo Assistant: Amber Cole
Sound (Seattle): Matt Sheldon
Sound (Chicago): Zak Piper
Grip: Martin Cameron
Assistant Editor: Josh Bowen
Colorist: Jim Morrissette

Seattle Research Assistance: Julio Ramírez
On Set Media Management: David Ayala
Seattle Production Assistant: Christina Bolt
Archive provided by: The Seattle Channel; Komo; Associated Press; Fight for 15; Working Washington; Elliot Stoller; Stuart Isett
© 2014 Long Shot Films, LLC. All rights reserved

Steve James

STEVE JAMES is best known as the Oscar-nominated director of “Hoop Dreams,” and has since become one of the most acclaimed documentary makers of his generation, with works including “Stevie,” “The New Americans,” “The War Tapes,” “At the Death House Door,” and “The Interrupters.” “Hoop Dreams” won every major critics award in 1994 as well as a Peabody and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1995. The film earned James the Directors Guild of America Award and the MTV Movie Award for "Best New Filmmaker." Recently, “Hoop Dreams” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, signifying the film’s enduring importance to American film history, and was hailed by critic Roger Ebert as “the great American documentary.” His latest film, “Life Itself,” about the life of Roger Ebert, premiered at Sundance 2014. Steve is now at work on “Generation Food,” a collaboration with author Raj Patel about solutions to fixing the broken global food system.

Director's Note

“I was thrilled to be included in this ambitious series of films because they address a real lack of understanding on behalf of most of us about the economy and how it works. For me, tackling ‘minimum wage’ held special interest. I am someone who did minimum wage jobs up until I was nearly 30 years old, and haven’t forgotten what a struggle it was to make a living on such a low wage. And the recent very public and contentious debate over raising the minimum wage has made it an issue that many people have now heard about, but too few feel they fully understand. 

We decided that we would center 'The Value of Work' around the debate and legislation that was passed in Seattle in 2013 because what happened there was historic - the city became ground zero for the issue and has spurred a movement that continues to sweep the country. At the same time, it was important to hear from both opponents and proponents of substantially increasing the minimum wage, including politicians and business leaders. Most importantly, we wanted to hear from the workers themselves. To give them and small business owners a place of real prominence in the film. 

So we made a decision to film them in a studio setting where we could both interview them and photograph them, with the hope of capturing their dignity and struggles. I was aided by two very talented shooters - Dana Kupper, my longtime DP on many films, and my good friend, photographer Kevin Horan, whose past work photographing everyday people inspired the idea. I was struck by how thoughtful and eloquent the workers were even in such brief interviews. They really do emerge as the heart of the film.”


What percentage of minimum-wage workers have at least some years of college study?

  • 46% 40%
  • 17% 60%
  • 18% Almost none, most are high school students
  • 19% 10%
46% of respondents chose the correct answer: 40%.

A 2011 study shows that, nationally, just over 40% of those working for minimum wage have at least some college education, with 9.9% having received full degrees or completing post-graduate work.

If the minimum wage were to rise in step with productivity growth, it would currently be:

  • 14% $25.00 per hour
  • 41% $17.00 per hour
  • 20% $7.25 per hour
  • 25% $10.10 per hour
41% of respondents chose the correct answer: $17.00 per hour.

From 1938, when the federal minimum wage first came into effect, until 1968, the minimum wage was increased in step with the economy’s rate of productivity growth. Twice after that, Congress froze the minimum wage, for nearly a decade each time, dooming the minimum wage to remain behind the needs of those who receive it as compensation.

How many states in the U.S. set minimum wage above the federal minimum?

  • 10% 0
  • 10% All
  • 13% 35
  • 66% 23
66% of respondents chose the correct answer: 23.

In 1938, Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the minimum wage at 25 cents per hour. Congressional authority dictates minimum wages but allows individual states to increase that rate as they see fit.

Did you know?

  • In the U.S. 23 States have raised the minimum wage above federal rates.

  • In 2014, Washington, D.C. offered the highest minimum wage at $9.50 per hour.

  • 50.4% of minimum-wage earners are between the ages of 16 and 24; 24% are between 16 and 19.

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