On June 25, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into law, thereby setting the minimum wage at $.25 per hour and the maximum workweek at 44 hours. The FLSA was designed to prevent the exploitation of workers, especially unskilled and part-time workers. In 1938, the FLSA applied to about one-fifth of the American work force, mostly urban and manufacturing workers. By the time the FLSA had been once again amended on September 1, 1997, the minimum wage had reached $5.15 per hour. With the many amendments to the FLSA since its original passage, most American workers are subject to its guidelines.
Roosevelt's crusade to establish fair employment practices originated with his "New Deal" program of 1933. Under the New Deal, the National Recovery Act (NRA) was established to suspend antitrust laws in order give business a lift, increase employment, and raise wages. The stock market crash of 1935 brought an end to the National Recovery Act. Roosevelt continued to push for legislation protecting American workers, including his Black-Connery bill, which was unsuccessfully sent to Congress twice in 1937. By 1938, congressional support began to favor stricter labor laws. One May 24, 1938, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a wage-hour, child-labor bill by a 314-to-97 margin. The bill was modified by the Senate-House Conference Committee and sent back to the House on June 13, 1938 where it was passed, 291-to-89. The Senate later approved the bill. The Fair Labor Standards Act became law on June 25, 1938.
The FLSA has seen many changes since its original adoption in 1938. In 1949, the minimum wage was raised to $.75 per hour and extended to include employees in the air transport industry. In 1961, workers covered by the FLSA saw their minimum wage rise from $1.00 to $1.15. The law was also broadened to include workers from other industries such as the retail trade sector. In the 1960s, student workers were allowed to be hired in retail and service industries at no more than 15 percent below minimum wage. Employees in public schools, nursing homes, laundries, construction, and farming were granted some type of minimum wage benefit during the 1960s.
By 1978, the minimum wage was uniformly set for all covered workers. In 1985, state and local governments were given the permission to pay overtime employees at a rate of one-and-a-half times their usual wage. In 1989, this provision was extended to small retail businesses, with certain exemptions. For example, if sales volumes for certain industries fell below a certain level, minimum wage requirements would be reduced.
You can learn more about labor standards from the
Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor