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10 Cato J. 715 (1990-1991)
The First Minimum Wage Laws

handle is hein.journals/catoj10 and id is 723 raw text is: THE FIRST MINIMUM WAGE LAWS
Clifford F. Thies
From 1912 to 1923, minimum wage laws covering women and
children were enacted in 15 states, the District of Columbia, and
Puerto Rico.' Then, in 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Adkins v.
Children's Hospital, declared that the District of Columbia's mini-
mum wage law violated the right of contract under the due process
clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Unfortunately, few data were collected that would enable analysis
of the effects of these first minimum wage laws. In spite of the
fragmentary nature of the available data, advocates of minimum
wages proclaimed that the experience with these laws proved them
to be efficacious. According to Mary Elizabeth Pidgeon of the U.S.
Women's Bureau, The universal experience with minimum wage
legislation . .. is that it has materially raised the wages ... of women.
. . . In regards to women's employment, the usual experience has
been that it continues to increase regardless of whether or not there
is minimum wage legislation (1975, pp. 8-9; originally, U.S. Dept.
of Labor, Women's Bureau 1937).
This article reconsiders the available data pertaining to the eco-
nomic effects of the first minimum wage laws in light of contemporary
minimum wage theory. In contrast to the above, exuberant assess-
ment, it finds that the actual experience with these laws is that, to the
extent they raised women's wages, they forced offsetting increases in
the productivity of low-wage women, or else they lowered women's
employment. That is, these laws restricted the choices available to
Cato journal, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Winter 1991). Copyright @ Cato Institute. All rights
The author is Associate Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of
'These minimum wage laws are described in detail in U.S. Dept. of Labor, Women's
Bureau (1928).


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