Statement by the President on the New 75-Cent Minimum Wage Rate.
AT MIDNIGHT tonight the lot of a great many American workers will be substantially improved.
Today the minimum wage is 40 cents an hour. Tomorrow the new 75-cent minimum rate goes into effect for the 22 million workers who are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, our Federal wage-hour law. Another amendment to that law will provide greatly increased protection for our young boys and girls against dangerous industrial work.
This legislation, passed by the 81st Congress at its first session, is an important addition to the laws we live by. It is a measure dictated by social justice. It adds to our economic strength. It is founded on the belief that full human dignity requires at least a minimum level of economic sufficiency and security.
For many generations we have recognized that there are legitimate roles for the Government to play in protecting our people from economic injustice and hardship. Our Pounding Fathers explicitly stated this. In the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, it is declared that this Government was established, among other reasons, to "promote the general welfare."
Until 1933 the objective of providing for the general welfare had been implemented primarily through State and Federal legislation to foster and protect business enterprise. There had been few successful attempts before 1933 to protect our people as individuals. Even the first Federal attempt to provide a floor under wages in various industries failed when the National Industrial Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional in 1935. We felt, however, that a government which could, for example, protect business from the unfair competition of monopolistic practices was not powerless to protect the individual from the social and economic evils of low wages. Therefore, we enacted, in 1938, a Federal wage-hour law. In so doing, we declared our purpose to eliminate from the channels of commerce all competition based on labor practices detrimental to the health and well-being of the Nation's workers.
Three basic provisions were written into the statute to achieve that goal. The law set a firm floor under wages. This meant that a man would no longer need relief money for food after he worked a full week. Then the law encouraged the spreading of employment by requiring overtime pay after a man worked 40 hours. No longer would one man toil 60 or 70 hours a week while another man was looking for a job. The law also sought to prevent the employment of boys and girls under 16 in industry. No longer was the world of tomorrow to be endangered by impairment of the health and curtailment of the educational opportunities of the youth of today.
This law was a great achievement. It had a highly beneficial effect upon our entire economy. Despite the prophesies of disaster, this law did not hurt business. On the contrary, it helped all segments of our population. When the test came, employers who had feared they could not stay in business under the law found, in fact, that they could successfully meet its requirements. The law added to the purchasing power of our lowpaid workers, and by encouraging the spreading of work put more people on payrolls. This law thus gave great impetus to the revival of our economy.
As our economy changed and developed, however, it became apparent that the floor we had placed under wages would no longer serve as real protection to our workers or to those employers who were paying fair wages. As I stated to the Congress, the 40-cent minimum wage became obsolete.
Ours is a growing society. We cannot afford to stand still, and we cannot afford to have our legislation become outmoded. Consequently, in 1949 we reexamined and reappraised the Federal wage-hour law in the light of the 11 years' experience we had had with it and in the context of our present $250 billion national economy. The amendments to the act, which go into effect at midnight tonight, constitute our modernization of this law.
As now amended, the Fair Labor Standards Act is a good law. But no law can be drafted which will not need reexamination in the light of subsequent developments. I have therefore asked the Secretary of Labor to keep me informed on the operation of the new law. I am confident that our employers and workers will find compliance with this law even easier than compliance with the original statute in 1938. I look forward to great and lasting benefits from this legislation.
Our progress in this field points the way for our future action. We shall not relax in our efforts to provide a better life for all our people.
Note: The Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1949 was approved on October 26, 1949 (63 Stat. 910). For the President's statement upon signing the bill see 1949 volume, this series, Item 239.
Harry S Truman, Statement by the President on the New 75-Cent Minimum Wage Rate. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230957