The federal minimum wage was established in 1938, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), to ensure that all work would be fairly rewarded and that regular employment would provide a decent quality of life. Congress makes periodic amendments to the FLSA to increase the federal minimum wage; however, since the 1960s, Congress has adjusted the federal minimum wage infrequently, enacting raises that have never been adequate to undo the erosion in the minimum wage’s value caused by inflation. This decline in purchasing power means low-wage workers have to work longer hours just to achieve the standard of living that was considered the bare minimum almost half a century ago. The decline in the value of the minimum wage has contributed to wage stagnation, and is directly responsible for widening inequality between low- and middle-wage workers.
In light of Congressional inaction, many states, cities, and counties have enacted their own higher minimum wages, with EARN groups providing the key research and analysis evaluating proposed minimum wage increases. In doing so, they are taking steps to help workers afford their basic needs, bring them closer to the middle class, and ensure that even the lowest-paid workers in their jurisdictions will benefit from broader improvements in wages and productivity.
As of 2017, the federal minimum wage was worth 25 percent less than it was in 1968.
There are 7 states that have no minimum-wage law or a minimum wage below the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage applies in all of these states.