The Minimum Wage at 65

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryOn October 24, 1938, the federal government under then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt established what is now called the minimum wage. Under federal law, every state and every employer—whether public or private—had to pay a minimum hourly wage to any and all employees. This way, people could make a certain amount of money that could help them afford basics such as food, utilities and family support. The minimum wage was one of the most important changes in the American landscape. Before, employers could pay their employees anything they wished, and the employer did not have to care if the money was enough or of no help to those they employed.

The minimum wage was for a time the guarantee under law to help protect working class Americans from falling through the safety net into dire poverty and destitution. Interestingly enough, the minimum wage did help millions of Americans in the post-World War II era when the economy began to grow again. The minimum wage helped to guarantee that most Americans could not fall through the safety net, and this allowed for Americans to not only demand more than just minimum wage, but also make more money to help buy things that were impossible before the minimum wage existed. The minimum wage helped to pave the way for more general prosperity in the American industrial and service sectors from the late 1940’s into the early 1970’s.

However, from 1981 through 1989, the minimum wage remained frozen at $3.35 an hour. During the same period, the minimum wage could not and did not keep up with the rate of the cost of living. It would not be until 1991 that the minimum wage was increased to $4.25 an hour, and even then the minimum wage was not enough for many working people to earn enough to buy food and pay for minimal expenses. Today, the minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour. The last time the minimum wage was increased was in 2009. If anything, the minimum wage has lost its meaning and its value in terms of what it can buy today. The value of minimum wage’s buying power today is more like .75 cents from the year 1958.

For a husband and wife who might have one to two kids that is chicken feed. Minimum wage today just will not help people out of poverty, and it will not even pay the basics that it was invented for 65 years before. If anything, an average family living on minimum wage (and that is going on the premise that both man and woman in the family work) may need federal government assistance such as food stamps, assistance on heating for the winter, and Medicaid. Because minimum wage no longer is truly minimum wage, too many families are finding themselves in dire poverty just like in the 1930’s when the minimum wage law was passed. It is time that the minimum wage is truly adjusted so that it will be possible for people to pay for the minimum of living so that it might raise wages across the board.

Comments are closed.