On June 4, 1912 — 100 years ago today — Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a minimum wage law, as Holly Sklar, director of Business for Shared Prosperity, noted:
Massachusetts led the nation when it passed the first state minimum wage law 100 years ago on June 4, 1912. [...] The commonwealth’s 1912 Report of the Commission on Minimum Wage Boards did not mince words. It said that whenever wages “are less than the cost of living and the reasonable provision for maintaining the worker in health, the industry employing her is in receipt of the working energy of a human being at less than its cost, and to that extent is parasitic.”
The Massachusetts law was quite weak, as it only covered women and children, outsourced the decision on where the wage would actually be set to a commission, and called for light penalties for violators. It wasn’t until 1938 that the nation got a federal minimum wage law as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The minimum wage actually hit its peak in terms of buying power in 1968; to have the same buying power, the minimum wage today would have to be $9.92, instead of $7.25. If the minimum wage had been indexed to the Consumer Price Index since 1968, it would be approximately $10.40 today.
The minimum wage today is also covering a much smaller percentage of health care and tuition costs than it was just a few decades ago, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research:
This year, 1.4 million workers are benefiting from scheduled increases in the minimum wage in eight states.