America’s federal minimum wage has not been raised in nearly a decade, sitting tight at $7.25 since 2009 with a little less than two-thirds the purchasing power it had at its peak value in 1968.
And according to The Washington Post, the U.S. doesn’t score well when held up against other wealthy nations: “Americans have the lowest national minimum wage, relative to the median wage, of any of the wealthy nations represented in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.”
In inflation-adjusted terms, the federal minimum wage was highest in 1968, when it was equal to $11.18 in today's dollars.
But Congress hasn't automatically indexed the minimum wage to inflation, nor has it raised the minimum frequently enough to keep pace. As a result it's steadily lost value since the late 1960s. It's already lost close to a dollar, in real terms, since 2009. It does, however, remain higher in real terms than it was for much of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Legislators and voters in many states have moved to pick up Congress's slack on the minimum wage. As recently as 1992 just six states had minimum wages that were higher than the federal minimum wage that year. By 2017, 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, had set minimum wages above the federal level.
Still, the U.S. falls behind every other OECD nation:
In France, for instance, the national minimum wage (close to 1,500 euros per month) is equal to about 61 percent of the medium national median wage. In Australia it's 54 percent. In Canada it's 46 percent.
In the United States, by contrast, the federal minimum wage works out to just 35 percent of the national median wage, the lowest in the OECD.
Raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020, for instance, would put the U.S. minimum wage at 54 percent of the median income and closer to the middle of the chart, near Australia. It would also set the real purchasing power of the minimum wage to just a hair higher than its level in 1968.