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The first U.S. minimum wage law came into existence at the end of the Great Depression. Enacted as part of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, the rate of 25 cents an hour was an effort on the part of the Roosevelt administration to provide workers with a decent wage in order to make a living.

Since its implementation, Congress has increased the U.S. minimum wage numerous times to its present status of $5.15 an hour. That increase went on the books in 1997. The present stretch is the longest that the minimum wage has not been adjusted since coming into being.

Some states and local governments have enacted their own minimum wage, setting the limit from several cents to numerous dollars more an hour. In fact, a couple of these laws are adjusted to reflect the rate of inflation.

Unfortunately, today’s minimum wage is considered a poverty wage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a married person with one child working 40 hours a week making just the minimum wage in 2005 would need an additional $2.59 an hour just to break even with that year’s poverty rate. It has only gotten worse since then.

To counter the stagnation that has gripped the federal minimum wage, labor unions have been working with other concerned groups to enact local “living wages.” Starting in the late 1990s, this movement has spread across the country.

Living wage ordinances use the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual poverty rate to determine a basic hourly wage needed by a worker to stay at or above the poverty line in that location. A living wage rate in the northeastern U.S. would not be the same as in a locale in the Southwest. In some cases, two living wages are established for one location: one if the job includes basic health care coverage and a higher rate if such coverage isn’t available.

The MTD, its affiliates and port maritime councils will continue their fight to increase the U.S. minimum wage while working to enact living wages that benefit all members of the community.