For past eight years, American politics has been marked by a debate over the minimum wage. At the start of the new year, 19 states raised their minimum wage. In two other states and Washington, D.C., workers will see an increase in their paychecks later in the year. Over half of the 50 states have increased their minimum wage above the federal requirement. This ongoing trend begs the question: why are all of these increases needed?
A federal minimum wage first became law in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act. This Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Since then, the federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times. The most recent increase occurred in 2009 when the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 took full effect. The current national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
The original purpose of the minimum wage was to secure a safe, living wage for the American worker. The only way to increase the federal minimum wage is through congressional action. The figure is not tied to inflation, so it will stay stagnant without new legislation. A stagnant minimum wage means that inflation will eventually erode its buying power. That's why the minimum wage is worth less today than it was in the 1960s.
So, debate over raising the minimum wage continues. President Barack Obama has been arguing for a minimum wage increase since 2008 — when he was a senator running for president. During his eight years in office, a federal minimum wage increase has not occurred. Most opposition to the raising it comes from conservatives.
Working 40-hour weeks at $7.25 an hour isn't enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in any state in America.
Republicans argue that increasing the minimum wage would be detrimental to the economy. Small businesses would be forced to pay more for their employees, making it harder for them to afford new hires. On the other side, Democrats argue that raising the minimum wage will put more money into the economy.
However, the fact that so many states are electing to raise the minimum wage on their own points to an economic need for it. At the very least, increasing the minimum wage will pull more Americans out of poverty. Working 40-hour weeks at $7.25 an hour isn't enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in any state in America.
In 2014, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a study that examined the economic effects of raising the minimum wage. This was done by comparing the states that raised their minimum to the states that didn't. The states with a wage increase also had a slight, but noticeable, increase in economic growth in the form of increased employment. This study shows that gradually raising the minimum wage as needed will not result in a worsened economy.
If the federal minimum wage were raised, businesses and employees would have to go through an adjustment period. But in the end, employees will have more money to spend — and the more money that is spent in the country only ends up helping the American economy.