How much the US minimum wage - and what it can get you - has changed since the year you were born

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How much the US minimum wage - and what it can get you - has changed since the year you were born

minimum wage

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Protesters calling for higher wages for fast-food workers stand outside a McDonald's restaurant in Oakland, California, on December 5, 2013.

  • Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, the same rate it's been since it was last raised in 2009.
  • The first federal minimum wage law, enacted in 1938, set minimum hourly rates at $0.25 across the country.
  • Though the minimum wage has risen incremently over the years, it hasn't increased enough to account for inflation and the skyrocketing costs of living in many places across the US.
  • This disparity is clear when you take into account the value of each era's federal minimum wage in today's dollars, as well as the prices of common expenses, like a new home and a gallon of gas.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

While 21 states raised their minimum wages at the start of 2020, plenty of others have remained stagnant at the same federal minimum rate that took effect in 2009. That means 21 states still have a minimum wage of only $7.25.

Despite a September report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that found the minimum wage hike in New York State had no immediate discernible effect on job loss and recent research suggesting that raising the minimum wage by just $1 could lead to a drop in suicide rates, the federally mandated minimum wage hasn't budged in over a decade.

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By observing the changing hourly minimum rates over the years, juxtaposed alongside their relative value in today's dollars, we can clearly see that incremental increases haven't been remotely enough to ensure minimum wage workers' ability to live in today's economy.

Here's every minimum wage increase, including its value in today's dollars, the cost of a new home in the given year, and the cost of a gallon of gas in the given year.

All adjusted values were determined using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI Inflation Calculator and are current as of the value of a dollar in December 2019.

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1938

1938

The first federal minimum wage (signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt) was $0.25 an hour, effective October 24, 1938. In today's dollars, that's equal to $4.59 an hour.

In 1938, a new house cost about $3,900. A gallon of gas cost $0.10.

Source: US Department of Labor, Business Insider

1939-1945

1939-1945

The federal minimum wage was raised to $0.30 an hour, effective October 24, 1939. It remained the same until October 24, 1945. Thirty cents in 1940 was equal to $5.51 in today's dollars.

In 1940, the median value of a single-family home in the US was $2,938 (equivalent to $53,927.83 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.18.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau, Energy.gov

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1945-1950

1945-1950

The federal minimum wage was raised to $0.40 an hour, effective October 24, 1945. It remained the same until January 25, 1950. Forty cents in 1945 is equal to $5.68 in today's dollars.

In 1950, the median value of a single-family home in the US was $7,354 (equivalent to $76,509.59 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.27.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau, Energy.gov

1950-1956

1950-1956

The federal minimum wage was raised to $0.75 an hour, effective January 25, 1950. It remained the same until March 1, 1956. In today's dollars, $0.75 in 1954 is equal to $7.19.

In 1954, a gallon of gas cost $0.29. Home value data from the US Census isn't available for this time period.

Source: US Department of Labor, Energy.gov

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1956-1961

1956-1961

The federal minimum wage was raised to $1.00 an hour, effective March 1, 1956. In today's dollars, that's equal to $9.55.

In 1960, the median value of a single-family home in the US was $11,900 (equivalent to $103,660.70 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.31.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau, Energy.gov

1961-1963

1961-1963

The federal minimum wage was raised to $1.15 an hour, effective September 3, 1961. In today's dollars, that's equal to $9.85.

In 1963, the median sales price of newly-constructed homes sold in the US was $18,000 (equivalent to $151,656.79 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.31.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1963-1967

1963-1967

The federal minimum wage was raised to $1.25 an hour, effective September 3, 1963. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.43.

In 1965, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $20,000 (equivalent to $162,128.71 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.30.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1967-1968

1967-1968

The federal minimum wage was raised to $1.40 an hour, effective February 1, 1967. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.68.

In 1967, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $22,700 (equivalent to $173,095.25 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.32.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1968-1974

1968-1974

The federal minimum wage was raised to $1.60 an hour, effective February 1, 1968. In today's dollars, that's equal to $11.65.

In 1970, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $23,400 (equivalent to $173,095.25 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.35.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1974

1974

The federal minimum wage was raised to $2.00 an hour, effective May 1, 1974. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.49.

In 1974, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $35,900 (equivalent to $188,272.79 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.39.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1975

1975

The federal minimum wage was raised to $2.10 an hour, effective January 1, 1975. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.07.

In 1975, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $39,300 (equivalent to $188,415.64 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.53.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1976-1977

1976-1977

The federal minimum wage was raised to $2.30 an hour, effective January 1, 1976. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.41.

In 1976, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $44,200 (equivalent to $199,969.20 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.57.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1978

1978

The federal minimum wage was raised to $2.65 an hour, effective January 1, 1978. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.44.

In 1978, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $55,700 (equivalent to $219,531.47 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.62.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1979

1979

The federal minimum wage was raised to $2.90 an hour, effective January 1, 1979. In today's dollars, that's equal to $10.31.

In 1979, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $62,900 (equivalent to $223,563.83 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.63.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1980

1980

The federal minimum wage was raised to $3.10 an hour, effective January 1, 1980. In today's dollars, that's equal to $9.63.

In 1980, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $64,600 (equivalent to $200,731.81 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $0.86.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1981-1990

1981-1990

The federal minimum wage was raised to $3.35 an hour, effective January 1, 1981. It remained at that level for nearly a decade.

The value of $3.35 in 1981 was equal to the buying power of $9.50 today. The value of $3.35 by 1990 was just $6.73 in today's dollars.

In 1981, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $68,900 (equivalent to $201,427.86 in today's dollars) and a gallon of gas cost $1.19. In 1990, the median sales price of newly-constructed homes sold in the US was $122,900 (equivalent to $246,735.19 in today's dollars) and a gallon of gas cost $1.00.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1990-1991

1990-1991

The federal minimum wage was raised to $3.80 an hour, effective April 1, 1990. In today's dollars, that's equal to $7.42.

In 1991, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $120,000 (equivalent to $234,322.80 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $1.14.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1991-1996

1991-1996

The federal minimum wage was raised to $4.25 an hour, effective April 1, 1991. In today's dollars, that's equal to $8.00.

In 1994, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $130,000 (equivalent to $224,205.50 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $1.11.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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1996-1997

1996-1997

The federal minimum wage was raised to $4.75 an hour, effective October 1, 1996. In today's dollars, that's equal to $7.70.

In 1996, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $140,000 (equivalent to $226,837.07 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $1.23.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

1997-2007

1997-2007

The federal minimum wage was raised to $5.15 an hour, effective September 1, 1997. It remained at that level for nearly a decade.

The value of $5.15 in 1997 was equal to the buying power of $8.20 today. The value of $5.15 by 2007 had decreased to just $6.36 in today's dollars.

In 1997, the median sales price of newly-constructed homes sold in the US was $146,000 (equivalent to $232,598.91 in today's dollars) and a gallon of gas cost $1.23. In 2007, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $247,900 (equivalent to $306,343.64 in today's dollars) and a gallon of gas cost $2.80.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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2007-2008

2007-2008

The federal minimum wage was raised to $5.85 an hour, effective July 4, 2007. In today's dollars, that's equal to $7.16.

In 2008, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $232,100 (equivalent to $277,640.97 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $3.27.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

2008-2009

2008-2009

The federal minimum wage was raised to $6.55 an hour, effective July 24, 2008. In today's dollars, that's equal to $8.01.

In 2009, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US was $216,700 (equivalent to $261,143.62 in today's dollars). That year, a gallon of gas cost $2.35.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov

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The federal minimum wage today

The federal minimum wage today

The federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour, effective July 24, 2009. It hasn't increased in over a decade. Meanwhile, the median sales price of newly constructed homes sold in the US reached an all-time high of $326,400 in 2018.

Source: US Department of Labor, US Census Bureau and US Department of Housing and Urban Development via FRED, Energy.gov