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From Medieval to Modern: The Journey of Minimum Wage

With the federal government and most states maintaining — or changing — their minimum wage laws every year, it may be hard to imagine a time before these regulations existed. But despite the ancient and storied history of compensation, you may be surprised to learn a true minimum wage didn’t emerge until much, much later.

The first wage requirement

During the mid-1300s, the English monarchy wrestled with an unprecedented talent shortage caused by the bubonic plague. To keep the most in-demand workers from earning what he deemed too much, King Edward III issued the Ordinance of Labourers 1349 — England’s first labor law according to many scholars — which enacted price controls, mandatory work requirements and a maximum wage.Minimum wage during the middle ages

Spurred in part by the Peasants’ Revolt, the law was amended in 1389 so labor wages matched the relative cost of food, establishing the first living wage. However, it wasn’t until 1604 when King James I passed The Act of Fixing a Minimum Wage, granting textile workers the first true “minimum wage” while introducing the phrase we know today.

An American movement

It took roughly three centuries for the concept of a minimum wage to eventually reach the U.S., as Massachusetts became the first state to require a minimum wage in 1912.

The Great Depression would intensify the pressure for a greater wage standard, evident by the passing of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933. By 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act provided the first federal minimum wage: a resounding 25 cents per hour.

John F. Kennedy returned to the roots of the country’s first minimum wage push by signing the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963, which sought to guarantee equal pay for employees performing the same job, regardless of their gender.

Minimum wage during the middle ages

Modern minimum wage

Throughout the 21st century, the federal minimum wage continued to evolve, reaching its current rate of $7.25 per hour in 2009. As of 2021, Washington, D.C. and 30 states pay above the federal minimum wage to address the varying cost of living across the nation.

Today, it’s not just wages evolving, but the way we receive them. As technology brings us greater convenience and control, innovation reshapes the way we socialize, shop and work.

Because of this enhanced functionality, most employees have already managed their own time and attendance or completed their own onboarding, all from the comfort of their mobile devices. This has led employees to expect more from their HR tools, such as:

  • increased insight into their pay
  • more transparency
  • a fluid experience across their HR tools

With self-service payroll, employees have the ability to view, access, troubleshoot and verify their paycheck before payroll runs. This helps them better financially prepare themselves while granting more time back to HR professionals, empowering them to focus less on redundant tasks and more on higher-reaching and impactful strategies.

Does your HR solution deliver the consumer-grade experience modern employees expect? Learn how Paycom’s comprehensive, single software does with Beti®, our industry-first, employee-driven payroll tool.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.