On Saturday, June 25, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed 121 bills. Among these bills was a landmark law in the United States’ social and economic development—Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) or otherwise known as the Wages and Hours Bill. This new law created a maximum forty-four hour workweek, guaranteed “time-and-a-half” for overtime hours in certain jobs, banned oppressive child labor, and established the nation’s first minimum wage. By definition, a minimum wage is the lowest wage permitted by law or by a special agreement (such as one with a labor union). Throughout the years, the minimum wage has been a central debate topic for the socioeconomic world and now in 2014, the debate has broken through the surface once more. In order to make a choice of whether the wage should be increased or decreased, the history of the wage is needed to make an informed decision.
The United States hasn't always had a minimum wage. Before the minimum wage was introduced during the Great Depression of the 1930s, there was no national minimum wage, or indeed any legislation to protect workers from exploitation. Due to this lack of regulation, tens of thousands of workers were routinely subjugated in sweatshops and factories, forced to work in horrible conditions, and for only pennies a week. Early attempts by labor unions to create a mandatory minimum wage were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that they “restricted the worker's right to set the price for his own labor.” This allowed employers to continue abusing their workers through the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the incredible demand for jobs caused wages to drop even further to an all-time low.
Luckily, after winning the 1936 presidential election, President Roosevelt signed the FLSA into law with a starting minimum wage of 0.25¢ an hour. However, the full effect of the FLSA of 1938 was postponed by the wartime inflation of the 1940s, which lowered wage values to below the level specified in the Act. In the years following World War II, the federal minimum wage was revised by Congress every few years to account for inflation and the ever rising cost of living. The last minimum wage increase occurred in 2007, when Congress raised the rate in steps from $5.15 an hour that year to $7.25 an hour in July 2009. The District of Columbia and 19 states have also established local minimum wages higher than the federal rate. The highest state minimum wage in the country occurs in Washington State at $9.19 an hour. The average minimum wage in the U.S.—including higher state rates—currently stands at $7.57 an hour (Sherk).
The minimum wage and labor law in general has come a long way throughout its seventy-six years in history, but both can certainly continue to be improved on by the actions of American workers and lawmakers. The debate of raising minimum wage continues. In a more prosperous era, the stereotype of a minimum-wage worker was a teenager flipping...