How much the US minimum wage and its actual value has changed

  • Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, the same rate it’s been since it was last raised in 2009.
  • The first federal minimum wage law, enacted in 1938, set minimum hourly rates at $0.25 across the country.
  • Though the minimum wage has risen incremently over the years, it hasn’t increased enough to account for inflation and the skyrocketing costs of living in many places across the US.
  • This disparity is clear when you take into account the value of each era’s federal minimum wage in today’s dollars, as well as the prices of common expenses, like a new home and a gallon of gas.
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While 21 states raised their minimum wages at the start of 2020, plenty of others have remained stagnant at the same federal minimum rate that took effect in 2009. That means 21 states still have a minimum wage of only $7.25.

Despite a September report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that found the minimum wage hike in New York State had no immediate discernible effect on job loss and recent research suggesting that raising the minimum wage by just $1 could lead to a drop in suicide rates, the federally mandated minimum wage hasn’t budged in over a decade.

By observing the changing hourly minimum rates over the years, juxtaposed alongside their relative value in today’s dollars, we can clearly see that incremental increases haven’t been remotely enough to ensure minimum wage workers’ ability to live in today’s economy.

Here’s every minimum wage increase, including its value in today’s dollars, the cost of a new home in the given year, and the cost of a gallon of gas in the given year.

All adjusted values were determined using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator and are current as of the value of a dollar in December 2019.

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