April 1998

History of the Minimum Wage

  • 1938 -- The minimum wage was first enacted into law as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The original minimum wage applied to workers engaged in interstate commerce and the production of goods for interstate commerce. In 1938, this applied to roughly 11.0 million workers out of a total of 54.9 million workers. The minimum wage was set at $0.25 per hour.
  • 1961 -- Amendments to the minimum wage law extend coverage primarily to employees in large retail and service trades as well as local transit, construction, and gasoline service station employees.
  • 1966 -- Amendments to the minimum wage law extend coverage to state and local government employees of hospitals, nursing homes, and schools and to employees of laundries, dry cleaners, large hotels and motels, restaurants, and farms. Subsequent amendments extended coverage to the remaining federal, state and local government employee not protected in 1966, to certain workers in retail and service trades previously exempted, and to certain domestic workers in private household employment.
  Minimum Average Minimum as Percentage Minimum Average
  Wage Wage* of Average Wage in 1997 $ Wage in 1997 $
1938 $0.25 $ 0.62 40.3% $2.87 $ 7.11
1945 0.40 1.02 39.2 3.59 7.32
1950 0.75 1.44 52.1 5.03 9.16
1956 1.00 1.95 51.3 5.94 9.66
1961 1.15 2.32 49.6 6.22 11.59
1965 1.25 2.61 47.9 6.41 12.54
1970 1.60 3.36 47.6 6.66 13.39
1975 2.10 4.83 43.5 6.31 13.99
1980 3.10 7.27 42.6 6.08 14.51
1985 3.35 9.54 35.1 5.03 14.33
1990 3.80 10.83 35.1 4.70 13.39
1995 4.25 12.35 34.4 4.51 13.10
1996 4.75 12.99 36.6 4.89 13.38
1997 5.15 13.09 39.3 5.15 13.09
 

*Average hourly earnings for manufacturing workers.

For more information, contact Ken McDonnell, (202) 775-6342, or see EBRI's Web site at www.ebri.org. Source: EBRI Databook on Employee Benefits, fourth edition, 1997.
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