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Minimum Wage in America: A Timeline

October 18, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Since 1938, the U.S. federal government has established that workers are entitled to a base hourly wage. Which workers receive that minimum—and how much—has remained a political issue.

When Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it represented a major shift in labor policy. For the first time, the federal government set a minimum wage and established the principle that people—or at least those covered by the law—are entitled to at least a certain amount of pay for their work.

The federal minimum applies to U.S. workers who are employed by companies with revenues of at least $500,000, plus workers in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, government agencies, and those who are involved in interstate commerce in their jobs.

One reason that the federal minimum wage provokes continuing controversy is that it doesn’t automatically adjust to the rising cost of living. “This means it is completely dependent upon political negotiations, and its level depended upon which forces had power,” explains the U.S. Supreme Court rules that imposing a minimum wage violates employers’ and workers’ liberty of contract right under the Fifth Amendment. That invalidates states’ minimum wage laws and limits them to offering advice to employers who can set their own standards.

FDR Champions Minimum Wage Codes

1933: Newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, eager to improve the lot of workers suffering in the Great Depression, convinces Congress to enact the National Industrial Recovery Act. The NIRA suspends antitrust restrictions and allows industries to enforce their own fair-trade codes, which raise wages.

President Roosevelt signing the Industrial Control-Public Works bill, otherwise known as the National Recovery Act.

The cotton industry is the first to enact such a code, which sets a minimum weekly wage of $13 in northern states and $12 in the south, in addition to abolishing child labor. Roosevelt also pushes employers to sign the “President’s Reemployment Agreement,” a pledge to offer a $12 to $15 weekly wage for 35 to 40 hours of labor. Employers who agree get to display a badge of hour, which depicts a blue eagle with the motto, “We Do Our Part.”

1935: In Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, the Supreme Court strikes down the industry codes that the NIRA had enabled, including their minimum wage provisions. As a result, the minimum wage becomes a big issue in the 1936 presidential election, with the incumbent, FDR, promising a …read more

Source: HISTORY