The first U.S. minimum wage was only $.25, a staunch difference from today’s $7.25. The minimum wage was first imposed by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and affected approximately one quarter of the work force at the time.
Though President Roosevelt was an avid supporter of the act and of the minimum wage, both remain controversial today.
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Below are some of the most noteworthy quotes that reflect the opinions about the minimum wage during its beginning:
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
President Roosevelt criticized businesses paying low wages to employees during his 1933 statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). NIRA allowed the government to regulate business to combat deflation and stimulate a better economic situation.
“All but the hopelessly reactionary will agree that to conserve our primary resources of man power, government must have some control over maximum hours, minimum wages, the evil of child labor and the exploitation of unorganized labor.”
During his 1937 message to Congress in which he introduced the Fair Labor Standards Act, President Roosevelt spoke to the necessity of a minimum wage. President Roosevelt believed that the imposition of a minimum wage would “conserve” labor rather than simply raise the cost of labor for businesses.
“Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000.00 a day, who has been turning his employees over to the Government relief rolls in order to preserve his company’s undistributed reserves, tell you — using his stockholders’ money to pay the postage for his personal opinions — tell you that a wage of $11.00 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”
President Roosevelt relayed his support for the Fair Labor Standards Act and the imposition of a minimum wage in a 1938 Fireside Chat. President Roosevelt called for government regulation in business to assure that companies paid their employees certain wages.
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“[O]n the ability of the common man to support himself hung the prosperity of everyone in the country.”
Frances Perkins, President Roosevelt’s secretary of labor and the first woman secretary of labor, expressed her support in her 1934 book, “People at Work.” Her words spoke to the importance of a living wage in maintaining financial stability.
“Rome, 2,000 years ago, fell because the government began fixing the prices of services and commodities. We, however, know what has always happened when governments have tried to superintend the industry of private persons. The final result has always been distress, misery and despair.”
Guy Harrington, while representing the National Publishers Association at a 1937 congressional hearing, attributed government regulation of industry to the fall of Rome.
Harrington’s testimony was torn apart by the committee chairman, Congressman William Connery (D-MA) though many recognize government intervention in industry to have played a damaging role in weakening systems.
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