“I stand by my view that minimum-wage laws are harmful. They kill jobs, disproportionately hurt minorities, young people and immigrants. Simply put, minimum-wage laws do more harm than good. This does not mean people shouldn’t be paid a fair wage for their work. It means free people should be allowed to freely negotiate their wages with other free people and come to a voluntary and mutually agreed upon wage. That’s the way markets have always worked. The government has no business telling people what they can and cannot work for.” –WA State Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg)
Well, not always. But it is the way markets worked during the Gilded Age—the Age of Robber Barons and extreme inequality (read massive poverty).
In Steve Fraser’s book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, he writes “by the midpoint of the Gilded Age about 4000 families owned as much wealth as the remaining 11.6 million. Two-hundred-thousand individuals controlled between 70 and 80 percent of the nation’s property. The arithmetic of dispossession and of the descent into the new American proletariat went like this:
“While 87 percent of private wealth belonged to a privileged fifth of the population and 11 percent to the next luckiest fifth, the bottom 40 percent had none at all.
“Multimillionaires (another invention of the Gilded Age) accounted for 1.33 percent of the population but owned on-sixth of the country’s wealth.
“The richest 1 percent owned 51 percent of all real and personal property, while the bottom 44 percent came away with 1.1 percent.
“Most workers earned less than $800 annually, which wasn’t enough to keep them out of poverty. And most of them had to toil for nearly sixty hour a week to make even that much.”
The first federal minimum wage was set at 25 cents in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 during the Great Depression. The act also covered “youth employment standards, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and standards for government employees at the local, state, and federal levels.”