The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009, the longest period without an increase since the wage was established by Congress in 1938. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute released last week, the value of the wage has been falling steadily thanks to inflation, and it’s now worth less than at any point in the last 66 years.
In February 1956, the nominal value of the minimum wage was 75 cents per hour, which translates to $7.19 per hour once inflation is taken into account. The wage has been worth more than that ever since, until now.
“[A] worker paid the current $7.25 federal minimum wage earns 27.4% less in inflation-adjusted terms than what their counterpart was paid in July 2009 when the minimum wage was last increased, and 40.2% less than a minimum wage worker in February 1968, the historical high point of the minimum wage’s value,” EPI analysts say.
Less than 2% of hourly workers are paid the bare minimum wage, in part due to the fact that 30 states and more than 50 cities and municipalities have enacted higher local minimums. Still, about a third of all workers make less than $15 per hour, and labor advocates argue that raising the federal minimum would help workers all along the long-income scale. “A national $15 minimum wage would raise the incomes of tens of millions of workers, including servers in restaurants, grocery store employees, and essential health care workers,” the EPI report says.