Minimum Wage History

A federal minimum wage was first set in 1938. The graph shows nominal (blue diamonds) and real (red squares) minimum wage values. Nominal values range from $0.25/hr in 1938 to the current $7.25/hr. The graph adjusts these wages to 2015 dollars (red squares) to show the real value of the minimum wage. The 1968 minimum wage was the highest at $10.85. The real dollar minimum wage (red squares) falls when Congress does not raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation. The minimum wage last increased in three $0.70 increments--to $5.85 in July, 2007, $6.55 in July, 2008, and to $7.25 in July 2009.

Many cities and states have departed from the federal minimum wage. In 2015, San Francisco's minimum wage went to 12.25 on May 1. It will rise to $15 per hour, July 1, 2018. The highest state is Washington's minimum wage at $9.47, and Oregon's is second at $9.25. California's minimum wage will go to $10/hour in 2016.

Multiplying the minimum wage by a work year of 50, 40-hour weeks gives the annual earnings that can be expected from a minimum wage job. The real annual income from a minimum wage job is the blue bars. The red line is the poverty level real annual income for a family of two adults and two children. The wages before taxes for one working parent are under $15,000.
The minimum wage has varied from a maximum of 99% of the poverty level in 1968 and has averaged 60% of the poverty level since 1989. The the lowest percentage the annual income from the minimum wage has been of the poverty level was 2006, just before Congress raised it for the first time in a decade. This is the longest period during which the minimum wage had not been adjusted.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of the Census; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Statistical Abstract of the United States; and Survey of Current Business.
Also: Smith 1989

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Updated:Friday, 19-Jun-2015 12:32:09 PDT
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