On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford began paying his factory workers a minimum of $5 a day -- about $110 today. While Ford's move shocked the US business monkey, it also settled in the loving hearts of politicians and by 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed into law the first federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour.
Last increased on July 24, 2009, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 74 million hourly workers in the U.S., and 3.8 million of them are paid at or below the minimum wage. Households in the bottom 20% of minimum wage or less income earn no more than $20,262 per year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage among all U.S. private sector workers was $19.07 in 2010.
States legislatures are free to enact minimum wage laws paying wages higher than the federal minimum wage. As of January 1, 2013, a total of 19 states and the District of Columbia had such laws, led by Washington with a state minimum wage of $9.19 an hour.
Earning the 75 cent minimum wage in effect from 1950 to 1956, workers of the day could earn enough to pay the national average monthly rent by working full-time for less than two weeks. The federal minimum hourly wage first reached $1.00 in 1956 and hit $2.00 in 1974.
From 1978 to 2009, the federal minimum wage was increased 11 times, rising from $2.65 to the current rate of $7.25.