What F.D.R. said in 1938 about establishing a minimum wage is also true about raising it: “Without question it starts us toward a better standard of living and increases purchasing power to buy the products of farm and factory.”
From an article in The New York Times
By TERESA TRITCH MARCH 7, 2014
In the more than 75 years since Congress first enacted a federal minimum wage — at 25 cents an hour — lawmakers have increased it nine times, reaching the current level of $7.25 an hour in 2009. And with every increase the same objections have been raised.
Today, instead of dismantling these arguments on my own I decided to get a little help from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had to fight Republicans, conservative Democrats, the Supreme Court and corporate leaders to pass the initial minimum wage in 1938.
Objection: Raising the minimum wage will hurt business and reduce employment.
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act)
Objection: $10.10 an hour is too much, maybe $9.
“By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act)
Objection: Once you add in public assistance and tax credits, $9 an hour is plenty, and business could survive that.
“Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 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.” (1938, Fireside Chat, the night before signing the Fair Labor Standards Act that instituted the federal minimum wage)
Objection: The minimum wage is a government mandate that interferes with the free market.
“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.” (1937, Message to Congress upon introduction of the Fair Labor Standards Act)
It took five years from F.D.R.’s first inauguration in 1933 to enact the federal minimum wage. The period encompassed “Black Monday” on May 27, 1935, when the Supreme Court invalidated the new labor standards in the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, and “White Monday” on March 29, 1937, when the Court reversed course by upholding the minimum wage in Washington state, setting the stage for passage of a federal version.
Today, with census data showing that one third of Americans are either in or near poverty, the arguments in favor of an adequate minimum wage are still compelling. The difference is that the minimum wage has gone from being a bold advance in labor law to a basic tool for broader prosperity, albeit one that Congress has failed to deploy fully. That is a shame. What F.D.R. said in 1938 about establishing a minimum wage is also true about raising it: “Without question it starts us toward a better standard of living and increases purchasing power to buy the products of farm and factory.”