With unemployment in the U.S. sticking at a stubborn 9 percent, we wondered how desperate people might be to get paid. So we decided to conduct an experiment to figure out the real minimum wage, not only in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how we did it:
Over several weeks, we used Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for freelance work operated by Amazon.com, to post simple, hour-long jobs to see how much or how little we’d need to pay workers. Specifically, we offered to hire people who would listen to a one-hour recording of Tom Weber, our managing editor, reading snippets from old articles along with an excerpt from Nixon’s “Checkers” speech. The recording was sprinkled with repeated instances of unusual key words, such as “polyunsaturated” and “knuckleduster.” The proposition to our potential workers: Download the audio file, listen to the hour long recording and count the instances of a key word we specified, and get paid. Each time a worker accomplished the task, we reposted the job at a lower wage, and repeated as necessary until we found the absolute bottom price that gave us takers.
Our findings: U.S. workers provide the cheapest labor force of all. Workers agreed to do the job for a shockingly low 25 cents an hour.