Congress enacted the first federal minimum wage in 1938. A provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, it covered about 6 million workers and set a wage floor of 25 cents per hour.
It also cost a lot of people their jobs. The Labor Department reported that as many as 50,000 employees, mostly poor Southern blacks, were thrown out of work within two weeks of the law’s taking effect. And the carnage spread. “African-Americans in the tobacco industry were particularly hard hit,” wrote David Bernstein in his 2001 history of labor regulations and black employment. “In Wilson, N.C., for example, machines replaced 2,000 African American tobacco stemmers in 1939.”