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Between 3.5 percent and 6.5 percent of workers in New York and California — and between 11 percent and 12 percent of low-wage workers — are victims of wage theft when employers violate minimum wage laws, a new report commissioned by the Department of Labor says. Workers in service industries fare the worst, and the report calls the problem “pervasive.”

The report estimates that violations cost workers in these two states between $20 million and $29 million in lost weekly income. This missing money makes a big difference in the lives and finances of workers, pushing 15,000 families below the poverty line.

These findings come on the heels of a study conducted by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which found that lawyers and regulators recovered nearly $1 billion that workers never received because of wage and hour violations in 2012. American taxpayers also pay the price, since wages that aren’t paid don’t contribute to tax revenues, and cheated workers rely more heavily on public assistance like food stamps. The report comes as union-backed protesters are staging strikes and rallies in 190 cities to advocate for a $15 hourly wage for fast food workers.


-- Martha C. White, NBC News contributor