Minimum Wage – Being Able To Eat

5 Min Read
Minimum Wage - Being Able To Eat
Minimum Wage – Being Able To Eat

Minimum has always been a contentious debate about what is right, what is wrong and can be traced to its origin in 1349 with the the Ordinance of Laborers, which was a decree by King Edward III that set a maximum wage for laborers in medieval England. King Edward III, who was a wealthy landowner, was dependent, like his lords, on serfs to work the land. In the autumn of 1348, the Black Plague reached England and decimated the population. The severe shortage of labor caused wages to soar and encouraged King Edward III to set a wage ceiling. Subsequent amendments to the ordinance, such as the Statute of Laborers in 1351, increased the penalties for paying a wage above the set rates.

While the laws governing wages initially set a ceiling on compensation, they were eventually used to set a living wage. An amendment to the Statute of Laborers in 1389 effectively fixed wages to the price of food. As time passed, the Justice of the Peace, who was charged with setting the maximum wage, also began to set formal minimum wages. The practice was eventually formalized with the passage of the Act Fixing a Minimum Wage in 1604 by King James I for workers in the textile industry.

By the early 19th century, the Statutes of Laborers was repealed as increasingly capitalistic England embraced laissez-faire policies which disfavored regulations of wages. The subsequent 19th century saw significant labor unrest affect many industrial nations. As trade unions were decriminalized during the century, attempts to control wages through collective agreement were made. However, this meant that a uniform minimum wage was not possible. In Principles of Political Economy in 1848, John Stuart Mill argued that because of the collective action problems that workers faced in organization, it was a justified departure from laissez-faire policies – freedom of contract – to regulate people’s wages and hours by the law.

It was not until the 1890s that the first modern legislative attempts to regulate minimum wages were seen in New Zealand and Australia. The movement for a minimum wage was initially focused on stopping sweatshop labor and controlling the proliferation of sweatshops in manufacturing industries. The sweatshops employed large numbers of women and young workers, paying them what were considered to be substandard wages. The sweatshop owners were thought to have unfair bargaining power over their employees, and a minimum wage was proposed as a means to make them pay fairly. Over time, the focus changed to helping people, especially families, become more self-sufficient.



Among the indicators that might be used to establish an initial minimum wage rate are ones that minimize the loss of jobs while preserving international competitiveness. Among these are general economic conditions as measured by real and nominal gross domestic product, inflation, labor supply and demand, wage levels, distribution and differentials, employment terms, productivity growth, labor costs, business operating costs, the number and trend of bankruptcies, economic freedom rankings, standards of living and the prevailing average wage rate.

In the business sector, concerns include the expected increased cost of doing business, threats to profitability, rising levels of unemployment (and subsequent higher government expenditure on welfare benefits raising tax rates), and the possible knock-on effects to the wages of more experienced workers who might already be earning the new statutory minimum wage, or slightly more. Among workers and their representatives, political considerations weigh in as labor leaders seek to win support by demanding the highest possible rate. Other concerns include purchasing power, inflation indexing and standardized working hours.

In the US, the minimum wage has been set under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the minimum wage in the United States would have been $18.28 in 2013 if the minimum wage had kept pace with labor productivity. To adjust for increased rates of worker productivity in the US, raising the minimum wage to $22 or more an hour has been presented.

Although minimum wage is not nearly as low as it used to be, the US still has a long way to go when it comes to compensating its workers. The federal minimum wage is currently at $7.25, a number that has stayed the same since 2009.

But even with no recent changes from the federal government, things appear to be moving in the right direction. In July 2019, the U.S. House passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, which could increase the incomes of 17 million to 27 million minimum wage workers, according to Bloomberg.

In the meantime, several states and localities have taken it upon themselves to raise their own minimum wages. On June 24, Illinois, Nevada and Oregon all raised their minimum wages, USA Today reported. Illinois’ minimum wage rose from $9.25 to $10; Nevada’s minimum wage rose from $7.25 to $8 for workers with health insurance, and from $8.25 to $9 for those without health coverage; and Oregon’s minimum wage rose from $11.25 to $12. In addition, 18 municipalities and three counties announced minimum wage increases.

The rise in the minimum wage seems hopeful. However, due to inflation and the rising cost of living, that amount might not be enough in the future. Take a look at how minimum wage has dramatically changed throughout the years.

The most troubling aspect of trying to determine what the minimum wage should be set at is the ascetic math involved in determining what is a proper minimum wage by determining how many people are employed, unemployed and how many people do not want to be employed. I can say to you that those mathematical formulas are dizzying to say the least.

With all of this in mind, here is a list of the minimum hourly wages from 1938 to 2020, where they still stand to this day.

Minimum WageFrom 1938To 2020
1938 – $0.25
1939 – $0.30
1940 – $0.30
1941 – $0.30
1942 – $0.30
1943 – $0.30
1944 – $0.30
1945 – $0.40
1946 – $0.40
1947 – $0.40
1948 – $0.40
1949 – $0.40
1950 – $0.75
1951 – $0.75
1952 – $0.75
1953 – $0.75
1954 – $0.75
1955 – $0.75
1956 – $1.00
1957 – $1.00
1958 – $1.00
1959 – $1.00
1960 – $1.00
1961 – $1.15
1962 – $1.15
1963 – $1.25
1964 – $1.25
1965 – $1.25
1966 – $1.25
1967 – $1.40
1968 – $1.60
1969 – $1.60
1970 – $1.60
1971 – $1.60
1972 – $1.60
1973 – $1.60
1974 – $2.00
1975 – $2.10
1976 – $2.30
1977 – $2.30
1978 – $2.65
1979 – $2.90
1980 – $3.10
1981 – $3.35
1982 – $3.35
1983 – $3.35
1984 – $3.35
1985 – $3.35
1986 – $3.35
1987 – $3.35
1988 – $3.35
1989 – $3.35
1990 – $3.80
1991 – $4.25
1992 – $4.25
1993 – $4.25
1994 – $4.25
1995 – $4.25
1996 – $4.75
1997 – $5.15
1998 – $5.15
1999 – $5.15
2000 – $5.15
2001 – $5.15
2002 – $5.15
2003 – $5.15
2004 – $5.15
2005 – $5.15
2006 – $5.15
2007 – $5.85
2008 – $6.55
2009 – $7.25
2010 – $7.25
2011 – $7.25
2012 – $7.25
2013 – $7.25
2014 – $7.25
2015 – $7.25
2016 – $7.25
2017 – $7.25
2018 – $7.25
2019 – $7.25
2020 – $7.25
David

Author: David

As a retired traveler, IT systems engineer by trade, Electronics engineer by hobby. I spend my free time writing about subjects giving the reader events in history to ponder, as well as current events.

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