As the the president and congressional Democrats have begun to push the minimum wage as a midterm election issue (as they did back in 2006 as well), I became curious about the history of minimum wage increases. We know that the minimum wage would be $21.72 if it kept pace with productivity growth or $10.52 if it just kept up with inflation after peaking (in real value) in the late 1960s.
I decided to ask the questions "Which presidents raised the minimum wage?" and "How often/many times has it been raised?"
Conveniently, the Department of Labor has a chart and a short history.
As you can see, FDR and Congress created the first federal minimum wage in 1938, which was set to rise in increments.
In 1950, under Truman, the minimum wage was increased from 40 cents to 75 cents.
In 1956, under Eisenhower, the minimum wage was increased to $1.00.
In 1961, under JFK, the minimum wage was increased in increments, and its scope was expanded to include the retail sector.
In 1967, under LBJ, the minimum wage was increased (again, in a set of increments), and its scope was expanded.
In 1974, under Nixon, the minimum wage was increased again, and its scope expanded again.
In 1978, under Carter, the minimum wage was increased (in a set of increments), and it eliminated the separate, lower minimum wage for agricultural workers.
In 1990, under George H. W. Bush, the minimum wage was increased (in a set of increments).
In 1996, under Clinton, the minimum wage was increased in two steps.
In 2007, after Democrats took back the House, George W. Bush signed the most recent federal minimum wage increase into effect, with three increments ending in July 2009.
The years I noted above are all the operative years of the increase, not necessarily the year of passage and signage (which was sometimes the year prior). The president would have been the same, though.
Every single increase except for one (1996) came from a Democratic Congress. The 1996 increase came from a Republican Congress under a Democratic president. The resultant deal ended up leaving tipped workers behind.
Since the creation of the federal minimum wage, only three presidents have never signed an increase into law: Gerald Ford (who became president four months after Nixon signed an increase into law), Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.
I hope that this changes. There are still almost three years left in Obama's second term.
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