Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks on Signing Into Law the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1977

November 01, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. I see a lot of happy faces here this morning.

In 1938, which was 39 years ago, President Roosevelt, in the presence of Senator Jennings Randolph and also in the presence of President George Meany, signed the first Fair Labor Standards Act. This was a time of great depression. It was a time when our Nation suffered. It was a time when unemployment was rampant, when the standard of living of most of our people was quite low. And it was a time when discouragement about the future preyed upon the shoulders of almost all American people.

And this bill said that Americans who had to work with their hands, the laborers of our Nation, those from low-income families, should be treated fairly. They should be given a right to an income which would at least buy the necessities of life. It was an innovative, almost a revolutionary idea, and the American people accepted it somewhat reluctantly. There were predictions of economic catastrophe, that inflation would run rampant, that people would lose their jobs, because a 25-cent hourly wage was more than the economy could bear.

I first came into the labor force in 1941 when the minimum wage was 40 cents an hour, and that was my first job. And each time that we've tried to boost the lower level of salary for the most underpaid workers, there have been predictions of catastrophe. But each time, in ray opinion, the change has helped our Nation and its economic strength.

Again, the Congress has acted, perhaps belatedly in each instance, but wisely, because the history of the minimum wage laws has been that the administrations in authority then and the Congress would raise the minimum wage up to an equivalent position compared to other wages. And then year by year as other manufacturing wages rose, the minimum wage stayed the same. And after 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 years, finally there would be another catchup phase, and those workers at the lower levels of the economic scale would be given what they deserve.

The Congress has now passed House of Representatives bill 3744, which sets a new scale of minimum wage to be raised in January of next year to $2.65 an hour, then step by step each year succeeding that up to maintain an appropriate relationship with other manufacturing wages.

It has been a step in the right direction, again. Again, there are predictions that there will be an adverse effect on inflation. There will be some slight increase in inflation, perhaps, and some people, perhaps, might not gain a job that they would have otherwise. But the overall impact of this bill, again, is good.

Annually, there will be added to the low- and middle-income families about $2 billion in increased income, which will increase the wealth of our Nation. It goes to the hands of those who will spend it for the necessities of life. And the stimulative impact on our economy, ! think, will be very beneficial.

We are concerned about youth unemployment. And we've tried to make compensatory steps this year effective with the help of the Congress, in a comprehensive youth employment act, increase in the CETA programs, local public works programs, and an overall stimulative package. And we face future opportunities to compensate for any deleterious effects of this bill. But I'm very glad to have a chance to sign it into law.

We will establish with the passage of this bill a Minimum Wage Study Commission to make sure that in the future, when minimum wage legislation is considered, that the overall impact will be beneficial, that the direct effect on the inflation rate, possible unemployment, will be very carefully considered and that we won't play the drop-far-behind/ catchup game in the future. This commission will be an independent one. It will be appointed--I think two representatives each, chosen by Labor, Agriculture, Commerce, and HEW. And they'll analyze within the next few months how we can best approach the minimum wage question in the future.

And so, it's with a great deal of pleasure and appreciation to the bold and, I think, well-considered action of Congress that I sign this bill into law.

[At this point, the President signed H.R. 3744 into law.]

I would like to call on two or three Members of the Congress to respond. The first one is a man who, perhaps, deserves most of the credit among many fine leaders, and that's Congressman Dent.

REPRESENTATIVE DENT. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I might say that Congressman Perkins, the chairman of the committee, specifically asked that John Dent be called upon to speak because of his leadership in this legislation.

REPRESENTATIVE DENT. Mr. President, I want to thank you on behalf of millions of Americans who have no other source of support except through the Congress of the United States and the President of the United States. While it's difficult for Congress to achieve much, it's even tougher on a President, who has to face the barrage of opposition singly. Whereas we have 435 Members to take a little bit each, you have to take it all. [Laughter]

And every President that has signed a minimum wage bill has done so with heavy opposition against it. All of the things they have predicted have never come true. All that has ever come out of minimum wage is a little bit better way of life for a great number of people who have no other place to go except to the Congress and to the President.

I want to thank the Congress as the sponsor for many years and thank you, Mr. President, for helping these people out.

THE PRESIDENT. I might point out that since President Roosevelt signed the first bill, that six other Presidents have also taken the same action. So, I haven't been alone or lonely in that procedure.

REPRESENTATIVE DENT. Mr. President, I'm not going to horn in, but I was here, too. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Was anyone else here in 1938? Mr. Biemiller, were you there?


THE PRESIDENT. So, four of you were here when the first bill was signed.

Pete Williams, I'd like to ask you to say a few words.

SENATOR WILLIAMS. Thank you, Mr. President. I think most all of the important things on this bill, as far as those of us in Congress are concerned, have been said over the last few months.

This is a great day for people at the lowest rung of our economic ladder. And while you, Mr. President, and the House and the Senate came to minimum wage legislation this year with the same theme, there were variations. I think it is one of the best examples of our processes that we've come together with a measure that we all know is of great importance to this land.

I am delighted, though, that Jennings Randolph is here from the Senate. He was here at the beginning, and we've had a continuity in this great legislation. And I thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. Senator Javits.

SENATOR JAVITS. Mr. President, this legislation is, as have been many things and as I hope will be many more, a triumph of bipartisanship and executive-congressional cooperation. We did it all together, and it's a magnificent job for the American people.

There are those who would express lack of confidence in our country, Mr. President. If we can afford to go from 25 cents to $2.90, for openers, there's no reason for lack of confidence in America. And the votes of our colleagues demonstrated that they, too, have that confidence.

And finally, Mr. President, those who would seek differentials for youth or others are begging the question. It means about 10 percent of those who will benefit from the minimum wage. We have to do very much more for American youth to get it employed. That would just be confession and avoidance.

And so, Mr. President, I congratulate you, my colleagues in the Congress. And I feel very deeply moved and honored to have played a small part in this great event.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

I'm not going to get myself any more deeply involved in deciding who should speak, but anyone else who'd like to say a word--[laughter]-

MR. MITCHELL. Mr. President, I'm Clarence Mitchell, the head of a coalition of American citizens of all races and faiths who got together for the purpose of trying to get this legislation passed.

You were gracious enough to receive Mr. Meany, who is here, and others of us in the early stages of this, when we talked about the knotty problems that were ahead of us. I want to say to you, Mr. President, and to your staff people, we had the most wonderful cooperation.

I want to say, too, that this was a bipartisan effort, as these constructive matters usually are in our country. We could not get along without the constructive people in both parties.

One of the footnotes in this legislation is that there are some half million blacks in this Nation who will today, when this law becomes effective, receive a higher and more meaningful wage. They are already working for $2.30 an hour, but they had to get relief in order to come up to the lowest standard of living. This will help to bring them up there. And on their behalf, Mr. President, I want to thank you and Mr. Meany and the Vice President and the members of the committee for this step forward.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

President Meany, would you say a word?

MR. MEANY. Thank you. Mr. President, I want to express to you and to the Members of the Congress who are here, who were involved in this legislation, a word of thanks from a group of people that I have no right to officially speak for, because the recipients of the minimum wage are not, by and large, members of our organization. But I'm sure that I can speak for them and express their deep appreciation for your action, for the action of the Congress in raising the minimum wage.

To me it's not only the question of these people individually, which is a humane question in a way, but if our economy is to have any base, it must have a base in the mass purchasing power in the hands of the great mass of the people. In other words, it's not enough for the people in the upper brackets to be prosperous. If we're going to have a viable, progressive economy, it must come from that base. And I think this provides the base.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House. George Meany is president and Andrew Biemiller is director of the Legislative Department of the AFL-CIO, and Clarence J. Mitchell is executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

As enacted, H.R. 3744 is Public Law 95151, approved November 1.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1977 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242451

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