What is today’s minimum wage worth compared to wages 50 years ago?
Should the lowest-paid workers in America share more of corporate America’s profits? Seattle has become the epicenter of the national minimum-wage debate.
SeaTac voters will decide in the general election whether to raise the minimum wage for some workers in and around the airport. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn recently turned a West Seattle Whole Foods zoning permit into a referendum on how much it pays its workers.
Unions are already pressuring the city to advance labor interests in a proposed hotel development that would replace the Greyhound bus terminal in downtown Seattle.
The argument championed by many is that the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., said in a recent editorial board meeting that when Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago, the minimum wage was $2 per hour, and that in today’s dollars that would be worth $15.
The same argument has been made by many advocates, and even in a recent editorial board meeting discussing the issue, different numbers were thrown back and forth.
So here are the facts: The federal minimum wage was $1.25 per hour in 1963, according to U.S. Department of Labor records. If we plug that number into the department’s inflation calculator, that $1.25 would be worth $9.54 in 2013 dollars.
Not $15. Today’s equivalent is $9.54 per hour. That number is higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. But it’s not that far from Washington state’s minimum wage: $9.19 per hour.
This is a worthy debate. It’s obscene how much many chief executives make compared to the median worker in the same company. It’s fair game to ask whether $1.25 was even a livable wage back in 1963. But the inflation argument does not hold water. Let’s stick with verified facts. Otherwise I could go debate climate change with the deniers.
Check out out our recent opinion essays about the minimum-wage debate:
A guest column by David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, “Seattle’s on the vanguard of movement to raise minimum wage.”
A blog post by editorial writer Thanh Tan, “Raising minimum wage to an arbitrary $15 is not practical.”
A blog post by our opinion intern Osa Hale, “Why college grads also want the minimum wage to rise.”
A guest column by Interim CDA executive director Hyeok Kim, “Arguing over the wrong thing in Mike McGinn, Whole Foods debate.”
A guest column by fast-food worker Fernando Cruz, “Show respect for fast-food workers with sufficient pay.”