June 25, 2013

Happy 75th to the Fair Labor Standards Act!

FLSA SigningOn June 25th, 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This bill outlawed oppressive child labor, imposed a federal minimum wage of 25 cents per hour, and guaranteed workers one and a half times their regular pay for hours worked over 40 in a week.

President Roosevelt called it, “the most far-reaching…far-sighted programs for the benefit of workers ever adopted.”

It was a monumental moment for workers’ rights. For the first time ever, American workers were guaranteed a level of security in the workplace.

The FLSA wasn’t adopted without its fair share of critics. In 1938 unemployment was at 19% and opponents felt that installing a minimum wage would make that number go up. They were wrong.

As the FLSA became law, wages and employment both increased.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to settle the debate about whether higher wages hurt employment –75 years later we’re still having it.

President Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour. His reasoning, mentioned in this year’s State of the Union address, was simple: “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

In March of this year, House Republicans unanimously voted down a bill that would have increased the minimum wage.

Speaker John Boehner summed up his party’s opposition to raising the minimum wage by saying “When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”

That logic is faulty and was proven wrong in 1938.

If the 75th anniversary of the FLSA makes us aware of anything, it’s that it’s time to renew its promise. The wage floor it established no longer provides a basic level of economic security.

A single parent working full-time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would earn $15,080 per year before taxes – putting them well below the poverty line.

If the minimum wage can only buy someone poverty than it’s too low.

Minimum wage workers deserve a raise. It’s time for Congress to give it to them.