Seventy-five years ago today, during one of his fireside chats, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke about the Fair Labor Standards Act, calling it one of “the most far-reaching … far-sighted program[s] for the benefit of workers ever adopted.”
Roosevelt signed the bill the next day, setting the nation’s first federally mandated minimum wage at 25 cents an hour and establishing bedrock labor protections that have kept our middle class strong and workers secure for decades. No longer could employers impose punishing working conditions at what FDR had called “starvation wages.” FLSA also included the nation’s first major restrictions on child labor and introduced the concept of premium pay for overtime work – if you worked more than the standard 44-hour workweek (later reduced to 40 hours), you were entitled to time-and-one-half pay.
FDR called out critics of the measure. He urged Americans to ignore the “calamity-howling” of those who “tell you that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”
This was the thick of the Great Depression — unemployment was a staggering, unimaginable 19 percent at the time, and the critics were certain a minimum wage would make it worse. But a funny thing happened after FLSA became law — wages and employment increased. The calamity howlers, with their dire warnings of economic Armageddon, were wrong.
Three-quarters of a century later, another president wants to reward an honest day’s work with an honest day’s pay. President Obama has proposed an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour. As he said in this year’s State of the Union address: “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” (more…)