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Answering Your Questions About the Minimum Wage Increases

written by: Robin L.•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 8/13/2010

How long has it been, since we had a raise in the minimum wage amount? Knowing the historical frequency of increases will give you a better idea of when you can expect the minimum wage to increase again.

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    Minimum Wage Why is the minimum wage important and how long has it been, since we had a raise in the minimum wage amount? The first part of that question is a bit more difficult to answer. It is important because without a wage per hour guarantee many unskilled workers would not be paid enough to survive on.

    The first federal minimum wage was established to make sure those women and children who were working in sweatshops would earn a fair wage for their work, something that was not happening at the time. The government decided that often the weakest people in our society were being worked harder and for less pay. The minimum wage was a way the government could help remedy this situation.

    Now it is seen as a tool to help those people who are working in the lowest earning fields and ensure that they make enough money to live on. It is important to note that while there is a federal minimum wage, there are also minimum wages mandated by individual states. While the states can make their minimum wage higher than what is federally regulated, they cannot make it lower.

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    Federal Minimum Wage

    The first federal minimum wage was put into effect in 1938 and guaranteed workers a minimum of $0.25 per hour. Since that time, the federal minimum wage has been increased twenty-three times with the last time being in 2009. In 2009, the federal minimum wage was increased to $7.25 per hour. Historically, the federal minimum wage has increased every few years with two exceptions. There was a nine year gap between the raise in 1981 and the one that followed it in 1990. At the time, the increase was $0.45. The longest gap between federal minimum wage increases, a span of almost ten years, was between 1997 and 2007. At the time, the increase was $0.70.

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    State Minimum Wages

    While the federal minimum wage certainly is helpful to many people, most states feel it does not go far enough to ensure that workers are making enough money to adequately support themselves. Because of this, many have legislated a higher minimum wage for workers in their state. The state with the highest minimum wage is Washington, which pays workers a minimum of $8.55 per hour. Out of the fifty states, five have no state minimum wage; instead, they rely solely on the federal guidelines. These states are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Including these, the number of states that pay only the federal minimum wage are thirty-five.

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    So, how long has it been since we had a raise in the minimum wage amount? Technically, it has been only about a year. However, many people feel the minimum wage should increase annually, and that it still needs a steep increase to truly help those who are earning this minimum amount.

    Photo Credit: Karen Apricot,

    Resources: U.S. Department of Labor and The Labor Law Center