For the last ten years there was no increase in the federal minimum age. When the Republicans took control of Congress in President Clinton’s second year in office they turned their back on any minimum-wage increase. Ironically, the Congress of the United States voted to increase its own stipend in line with the rise in the cost of living. But a similar adjustment in the minimum wage was denied.
On May 23, the House of Representatives approved an increase in the minimum wage by a vote of 348 to 73. In the Senate, the vote was 80 to 14. Which means that the majority of Republicans in both houses voted for the bill. That made history!
But, if the past is a guide to the future, we may expect that the wage hike will have far-reaching implications. Workers who were earning more than the minimum found themselves at the bottom of the totem poll. They demanded increases and generally got them. In cases where workers are represented by unions, contracts are renegotiated to reflect the change in the minimum.
None of this should come as a surprise to those who are acquainted with the history of the minimum wage. In 1938, in the second year of President Roosevelt’s term of office, the minimum wage was part of a “fair labor standards act.” The proposed minimum was 15 cents an hour. The going wage in the apparel industry was about five cents an hour. Employers complained that a 15-cent minimum would drive them into bankruptcy. But it didn’t. The minimum wage raised buying power across the land.
Does the present support of Republicans for a higher minimum wage mean that they have seen the light? Not really. The minimum wage provisions are part of a total national budget that includes continuing support for the war in Iraq.
Once more we are reminded that politics makes strange bedfellows!