Serving Mcdonalds French Fries
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Can You Guess the Minimum Wage the Year You Were Born?

Serving Mcdonalds French Fries
David McNew/Getty Images CC

Act Your Wage

Half of the country's lowest-earning workers will get a raise in 2021. Exactly 25 of America's 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., voted to increase their minimum wages this past election. Many states have already instituted minimum wages higher than the federal minimum, but 20 still use the national standard of $7.25 an hour as the lowest pay allowed by law.


The minimum wage emerged in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which revolutionized the workplace, gave rise to the middle class, and remains the foundation of U.S. labor law. The minimum wage was always controversial and political — who should get it, who shouldn't, how much it should be — and, practically speaking, the way it's administered doesn't make much sense: It's a flat rate that doesn't consider regional differences in the cost of living, even though $7.25 goes much further in Buffalo, New York, for example, than just a few hours south in New York City. It also doesn't adjust for inflation over time, so the only way it can increase is through dragged-out political negotiations that leave the lowest-earning workers with little relief. A dozen presidents have raised the minimum wage 22 different times.


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Two Dust Bowl refugees walk along a highway towards Los Angeles. passing by a billboard imploring them "Next Time Try the Train - Relax".
Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images CC

1938

  • Minimum wage: $0.25
  • In 2021 money: $4.59

The original minimum wage was a quarter an hour. If that sounds terrible, that's because it was. That kind of pay provided less than two-thirds of the buying power of even today's paltry minimum wage — but it was still a monumental step forward. Unlike every wage earner who had ever exchanged labor for money, those now collecting that 25 cents knew at least that it couldn't get any worse. It was something, and after nearly a decade of the social, economic, and agricultural disasters of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, certainly better than nothing.


Related: 2020s vs. 1920s: Will History Repeat?

 Part of the daily line-up outside the State Unemployment Office, Memphis, USA
Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images CC

1939

  • Minimum wage: $0.30
  • In 2021 money: $5.59

The very next year, as the Depression was finally drawing to a close, the minimum wage was raised by a nickel an hour to $0.30, where it would remain until the end of World War II.

A view along a factory production line of workers filling cans with olives, which pass along a conveyor belt, USA, circa 1940. The production line workers are predominantly women.
Al Greene Archive / Contributor / Getty Images CC

1940

  • Minimum wage: $0.30
  • In 2021 money: $5.55
1941
MPI / Stringer / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1941

  • Minimum wage: $0.30
  • In 2021 money: $5.28
General view of a cannery in California, USA, circa 1940. The image shows rows of workers wearing hair nets alongside stacks of cans.
Lass / Staff / Getty Images CC

1942

  • Minimum wage: $0.30
  • In 2021 money: $4.76
A man pushing cut logs of wood with a long pole along the surface of a lake during the preparation of timber, USA, circa 1940
Al Greene Archive / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1943

  • Minimum wage: $0.30
  • In 2021 money: $4.49

By 1943, the relentless gnawing of inflation had taken its toll on what had been a nice bump in pay in 1939. The true buying power of the minimum wage was now less than it had been in 1938 when it was first established under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

A man adjusts a spool of wire on a wire rope machine, USA, circa 1940.
Archive Photos / Stringer / Getty Images CC

1944

  • Minimum wage: $0.30
  • In 2021 money: $4.41
Workers on a newspaper printing press circa 1940.
American Stock Archive / Contributor / Getty Images CC

1945

  • Minimum wage: $0.40
  • In 2021 money: $5.75

On Oct. 24, 1945, a month after the end of World War II, the American wage-earner got a badly needed raise. When the minimum wage was increased by a dime that year, it boosted the country's bottom salary to the highest it had even been when indexed for inflation. 

American Legion roof spotter Benjamin Franklin enjoys the New York Skyline
Keystone / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty Images CC

1946

  • Minimum wage: $0.40
  • In 2021 money: $5.31
Black and white photograph of Little Chef Sandwich Shop exterior at night with neon signs illuminated.
Jim Heimann Collection / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1947

  • Minimum wage: $0.40
  • In 2021 money: $4.64
Factory in 1948
Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images CC

1948

  • Minimum wage: $0.40
  • In 2021 money: $4.30

By 1948, the real buying power of the minimum wage was less than it had ever been — cratering to just $4.30 in today's money just three short years after it was raised to the highest value in its history. 

1940s SENIOR MAN TRYING ON HATS LOOKING IN MIRROR IN HAT STORE
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1949

  • Minimum wage: $0.40
  • In 2021 money: $4.35
Female workers sit in rows behind a workspace on an assembly line in a factory, USA, circa 1950.
James W. Welgos / Stringer / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1950

  • Minimum wage: $0.75
  • In 2021 money: $8.05

By 1950, the recession that followed World War II was over and America was entering an unprecedented era of prosperity and economic stability. That year, the minimum wage nearly doubled to 75 cents to reflect the rapidly expanding consumer economy and the higher national standard of living the average American enjoyed. The result was the minimum wage racing past $6, $7, and even $8 for the first time in history with the stroke of a pen. 

A female worker, wearing white gloves, 'sealing in' a light bulb on a production line, at a light bulb factory,
Lionel Green / Staff / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1951

  • Minimum wage: $0.75
  • In 2021 money: $7.47
Two men stand in front of a console, inspecting the switches and dials, in a factory, USA, circa 1950.
James W. Welgos / Stringer / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1952

  • Minimum wage: $0.75
  • In 2021 money: $7.32
A factory worker polishes the top of a desk in a furniture factory, USA, circa 1950
James W. Welgos / Stringer / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1953

  • Minimum wage: $0.75
  • In 2021 money: $7.27
A frozen custard shop in Coney Island, New York City, 1952.
Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images CC

1954

  • Minimum wage: $0.75
  • In 2021 money: $7.22

Just four years after the massive pay raise of 1950, the real value of the minimum wage had again been nibbled down to a representative buying power that was lower than it is today — 75 cents an hour wouldn't cut it for long. 

Students packing 'Berea Do-nuts', earning additional funds at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, USA, circa 1950
Lawrence Thornton / Staff / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1955

  • Minimum wage: $0.75
  • In 2021 money: $7.24
1950s WOMAN GROCERY SUPERMARKET CASHIER RINGING FOOD PURCHASES
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1956

  • Minimum wage: $1
  • In 2021 money: $9.52

On Mar. 1, 1956, the minimum wage was raised by one-third, just as it had been in 1945. For the first time in history, those entering the workforce would do something on their first day that their parents would have never imagined possible when seeking work during the Depression: earning a buck an hour. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage had never had more purchasing power — more than nine-and-a-half dollars with inflation — and, once again, it could buy more back then than the minimum wage could buy today at $7.25 an hour.

Diners in the courtyard at The Court of Two Sisters restaurant on Royal Street, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, circa 1950
Berni Schoenfield / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty Images CC

1957

  • Minimum wage: $1
  • In 2021 money: $9.21
Coal Mine Training
FPG / Staff / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1958

  • Minimum wage: $1
  • In 2021 money: $8.96
 MAN WORKING WITH HEAVY MACHINERY IN MANUFACTURING FACTORY
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1959

  • Minimum wage: $1
  • In 2021 money: $8.89
Male and female workers on a Baker Boy production line, with a man packing and sealing boxes of Baker Boy Confection Rolls to the left of the image, United States, circa 1960.
American Stock Archive / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1960

  • Minimum wage: $1
  • In 2021 money: $8.74
While several people in swimwear watch from outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, a smiling couple place an order with a smiling, uniformed waitress in the coffee shop of the Thunderbird Motel, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 1960s
Aladdin Color Inc / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1961

  • Minimum wage: $1.15
  • In 2021 money: $9.95

America's consumer economy was roaring in 1961. Before inflation had barely even whittled down the big $1 bump from 1956, the minimum wage was raised again, this time flirting with $10 in today's money. 

Women working in a poultry processing plant circa 1963
Pictorial Parade / Staff / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1962

  • Minimum wage: $1.15
  • In 2021 money: $9.86
A man working on a glass yarn production line circa 1960.
R. Gates / Staff / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1963

  • Minimum wage: $1.25
  • In 2021 money: $10.57

When indexed for inflation, Sept. 3, 1963, represented the first time in U.S. history that the minimum wage broke double digits in today's money, blowing past $10 an hour and racing toward $11. 

Chevrolet Production Line  Working on a production line at a Chevrolet plant in the 1960's
Pictorial Parade / Staff / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1964

  • Minimum wage: $1.25
  • In 2021 money: $10.44
1960s HAT MAKING FACTORY WITH ROWS OF WOMEN AT LONG TABLE HAND TRIMMING STETSON HATS
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1965

  • Minimum wage: $1.25
  • In 2021 money: $10.27
1960s 1970s WOMAN JOINING BOARDS WITH NAIL GUN IN PREFAB HOME FACTORY
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1966

  • Minimum wage: $1.25
  • In 2021 money: $9.98
A group of elderly African American men eat lunch at the counter of Sure's Pharmacy, in Chicago, IL, 1965
Robert Abbott Sengstacke / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1967

  • Minimum wage: $1.40
  • In 2021 money: $10.85

Just four years after the most recent increase, the bottom wage was lifted again, this time by 15 cents to $1.40.

Red, white and blue stools at the Diplomat Motel Coffee Shop
Aladdin Color Inc / Contributor / Corbis Historical / Getty Images CC

1968

  • Minimum wage: $1.60
  • In 2021 money: $11.90

Just one year later on Feb. 1, 1968, the minimum wage was raised to the modern equivalent of nearly $12 an hour. It represented the peak of prosperity for the American wage earner. Never before and never since has the country's workforce been able to buy so much with the lowest wage allowed by law.


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View of clerks and customers in an unidentified store that offers a wide range of cigarettes, as well as other tobacco-related products, candy, and portable radios at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, New York, July 4, 1968
Bev Grant / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1969

  • Minimum wage: $1.60
  • In 2021 money: $11.28
 CIRCA 1970: Photo of Waitress
Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images CC

1970

  • Minimum wage: $1.60
  • In 2021 money: $10.67
A low rider vehicle sits outside a music store selling cassettes, tapes, etc. on October 1, 1971 in Palos Verdes, California.
Donaldson Collection / Contributor / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images CC

1971

  • Minimum wage: $1.60
  • In 2021 money: $10.22
1960s 1970s COUPLE MAN WOMAN IN FURNITURE STORE SHOWROOM WITH SALESMAN EXAMINING PURCHASING A NEW COUCH
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1972

  • Minimum wage: $1.60
  • In 2021 money: $9.91
Vernacular photograph taken on a 35mm analog film transparency, believed to depict black and silver frying pan on stove, with man in the processing of cooking, in the kitchen of a restaurant or hostel, 1970
Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1973

  • Minimum wage: $1.60
  • In 2021 money: $9.33
2nd December 1974: Baker Roy Edwards slides a loaf into his oven.
Ronald Dumont / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty Images CC

1974

  • Minimum wage: $2
  • In 2021 money: $10.50

Had the government not increased the minimum wage in 1974, It would have cratered by almost a full dollar from $9.33 in today's money all the way down to $8.40, which is still much better than today, by the way. Economically speaking, the 1970s were defined by runaway inflation, which is the dramatic reduction of a currency's buying power. By the middle of the decade, inflation was so high that raising the minimum wage was like bucketing water out of a leaky boat — it had to be done almost continuously for the U.S. worker to stay afloat. The government would raise the minimum wage every year or close to it throughout the remainder of the decade and into the early 1980s only to barely break even most years.


Related: 30 Lies That Bosses Tell Employees

1975
Archive Photos / Stringer / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1975

  • Minimum wage: $2.10
  • In 2021 money: $10.10
A view of the exterior of the Village Produce fruit and vegetable shop in Greenwich Village in1976 in New York City, New York.
Donaldson Collection / Contributor / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images CC

1976

  • Minimum wage: $2.30
  • In 2021 money: $10.46
The exterior of a McDonald's fast food restaurant is shown in this August 1970 photo.
Hulton Archive / Staff / Getty Images CC

1977

  • Minimum wage: $2.30
  • In 2021 money: $9.82
A view of the exterior of a Sam Goody record store located at 1011 3rd Avenue at 60th Street in1976 in New York City, New York
Donaldson Collection / Contributor / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images CC

1978

  • Minimum wage: $2.65
  • In 2021 money: $10.50
 JUNE 1975: A female Mobil gas station attendant cleans the windshield and checks the oil of a customer's car in June 1975 in Los Angeles, California
Donaldson Collection / Contributor / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images CC

1979

  • Minimum wage: $2.90
  • In 2021 money: $10.34
Bleecker Bob's Records, a record shop owned by Robert Plotnik on 118 West 3rd Street in Manhattan, New York City, circa 1982.
Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images CC

1980

  • Minimum wage: $3.10
  • In 2021 money: $9.74
Welders work on a Strategic Petroleum Reserve pipeline June 1, 1980 in West Hackberry, LA.
Robert Nickelsberg / Contributor / Hulton Archive / Getty Images CC

1981

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $9.54

In 1981, the Reagan years began, and with them began the era of gaping economic inequality that continues to this day. Right out of the gate, Reagan gutted or eliminated virtually every major social welfare program from school lunches and Head Start to mental health and homelessness. The have-nots couldn't have imagined how bad things were about to get. The government raised the minimum wage to $3.35 — still less than $10 an hour in today's money — and then abandoned the wage earner for the remainder of the decade.


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Women look at clothes at an outdoor stall in the East Village, Manhattan, New York City, USA, June 1982.
Barbara Alper / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1982

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $8.98
A box full of cigarettes, newspapers and magazines, New York City, US, October 1982
Barbara Alper / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

1983

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $8.70
Mickey's Diner in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 1, 1984
Jim Steinfeldt / Contributor / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images CC

1984

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $8.34
Record Store
Barbara Alper/Getty Images CC

1985

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $8.06
Old Fast Food Restaurant
Harry Dempster/Getty Images CC

1986

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $7.91
Cafeteria
Steve Eason/Getty Images CC

1987

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $7.63
Woman In Store
Scott McPartland/Getty Images CC

1988

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $7.33
Construction Workers
Harold M. Lambert/Getty Images CC

1989

  • Minimum wage: $3.35
  • In 2021 money: $6.99

The '80s were a grueling decade for America's lowest-paid workers and poorest families — and the long-stagnant minimum wage certainly didn't help. 1989 was the first year since 1955 that the buying power of the minimum wage was lower than the $7.25 an hour it pays today. It was also the first year since 1949 that it had dropped below $7 an hour when indexed for inflation. 

Record Shop
David Corio/Getty Images CC

1990

  • Minimum wage: $3.80
  • In 2021 money: $7.52

When the increase finally did come nearly a decade after the last bump in 1981, minimum wage workers got a raise of only 45 cents.

Roller Skating Waitress
Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images CC
Mcdonalds Drive Thru
Roger Hutchings/Getty Images CC

1992

  • Minimum wage: $4.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.84
Cafe
Tim Boyle/Getty Images CC

1993

  • Minimum wage: $4.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.61
Storefront
Shepard Sherbell/Getty Images CC

1994

  • Minimum wage: $4.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.42
Yellow Taxi
James Leynse/Getty Images CC

1995

  • Minimum wage: $4.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.22
Barber
David Turnley/Getty Images CC

1996

  • Minimum wage: $4.75
  • In 2021 money: $7.84

The next bump in pay came in 1996. Even with the increase, millions of minimum-wage-earning Americans were still not making $5 an hour.

Hotel Room Service
David Butow/Getty Images CC

1997

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $8.30

The U.S. minimum wage finally broke the $5 mark for the first time in history in 1997. It would hold at $5.15 through the rest of the '90s and most of the 2000s, a longer drought than even that which suffocated low-wage workers throughout the 1980s. Minimum wage workers wouldn't get a raise until Steve Jobs released the first iPhone a decade later.


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Waitress Serving
David Butow/Getty Images CC

1998

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $8.18
Roller Skating Rink
smodj/istockphoto

1999

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $8
Sales Associate
James Leynse/Getty Images CC

2000

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $7.73
Shoe Shining
mark peterson/Getty Images CC

2001

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $7.53
Dry Cleaning
tommich/istockphoto

2002

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $7.41
Movie Theater Concession Stand
John Li/Getty Images CC

2003

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $7.24
Blockbuster
Jorge Villalba/istockphoto

2004

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $7.06
Burger King
Chris Graythen/Getty Images CC

2005

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $6.82
Washing A Car
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images CC

2006

  • Minimum wage: $5.15
  • In 2021 money: $6.61

In 2006, it was perfectly legal to pay American workers the equivalent of $6.61 an hour in today's money, an unsurvivable wage for the modern family. Real wages hadn't been so low since the 1940s. 


Related: 30 Ways Your Employer Could Be Cheating You

Waiter Taking Order
Wavebreakmedia/istockphoto
Pumping Gas
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images CC

2008

  • Minimum wage: $6.55
  • In 2021 money: $7.87

By 2008, wages had been so low for so long that $6.55 seemed like a big raise, but it still represented less than $8 an hour.

Hotel Housekeeping
Joe Raedle/Getty Images CC

2009

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $8.75

The most recent increase in 2009 didn't even bring the minimum wage back up to $9, but that's as good as it would get for the remainder of time as we know it. A dozen years later and the minimum wage is still just $7.25 an hour. That's a longer period of wage stagnation than even those of the 1980s and 2000s. 


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Janitor
kzenon/istockphoto

2010

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $8.61
Pizza Hut Taco Bell
slobo/istockphoto

2011

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $8.34
Car Wash Worker
EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/istockphoto

2012

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $8.17
Anytime Fitness Gym
Catrin Haze/istockphoto

2013

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $8.05
Dishwashing
Juanmonino/Getty Images CC

2014

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.93
Movie Theater
Antonio_Diaz/istockphoto

2015

  • Minimum wage: $7.25 
  • In 2021 money: $7.92
Daycare
Westend61/Getty Images CC

2016

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.82
Rideshare Driver
Nisian Hughes/Getty Images CC

2017

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.65
Bartending
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images CC

2018

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.47
Caretaker Walking Senior
Sasirin Pamai / EyeEm/Getty Images CC

2019

  • Minimum wage: $7.25
  • In 2021 money: $7.34
Food Delivery Man
FG Trade/Getty Images CC
Supermarket Employee
FG Trade/Getty Images CC

2021

  • Minimum wage: $7.25

The minimum wage today is exactly $7 more than it was when the concept first revolutionized labor in 1938. It can buy a lot more today than it could in those waning years of the Great Depression, but not nearly as much as it could in the post-war boom years of the 1950s and '60s. It's now been 12 years since the last increase to the minimum wage, the longest stretch in history that America's lowest wage earners have been forced to endure without a raise. 


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